MEASURE OF A MAN
Studio: Great Point Media
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Directed by: Jim Loach
Cast: Blake Cooper, Donald Sutherland, Luke Wilson, Liana Liberato, Danielle Rose Russell, Luke Benward, Sam Keeley, Beau Knapp, & Judy Greer
Writers: David Scearse, based on the novel One Fat Summer by Robert Lipsyte
Run Time: 100 min
During the summer of 1976, fourteen-year-old Bobby Marks (Blake Cooper), insecure and overweight, must endure another tortuous family vacation at Rumson Lake. His summer job, tending to the palatial estate of the reclusive, enigmatic and overly demanding Dr. Kahn (Donald Sutherland) is backbreaking. His parents (Judy Greer & Luke Wilson) appear on the verge of divorce; his sister Michelle (Liana Liberato) is forcing him to help conceal her clandestine rendezvous with the local pretty boy; and his best friend and kindred spirit Joanie (Danielle Rose Russell) is leaving for a month and won’t tell him why. On top of that, a crazy townie has focused his hatred of the rich “summer people” exclusively on Bobby. Over the course of this emotional rollercoaster of a summer, secrets are revealed, lessons are learned and Bobby comes to understand who he is and what makes up the true measure of a man.
Following in his director father’s footsteps, Jim Loach has become an outstanding storyteller. His father is the well-known director, writer, producer Ken Loach, who directed last year’s impressive film ‘I, Daniel Blake’ among countless others. Jim has decided to one-up dad this year by giving us a memorable film of his own called ‘Measure of a Man,’ based on the book ‘One Fat Summer’ by Robert Lipsyte. I’m not sure which is best, but I know which one is about to come out and do strongly suggest you see it as soon as you can. In the movie, Jim handles the subject of youthful angst quite delicately while simultaneously keeping you on the edge of your seat. He tells us of one summer poor when Bobby Marks had to endure bullying that most couldn’t tolerate for a day and how overcoming it helped him grow into a better man.
During the 2018 Phoenix Film Festival, I got to sit down with Jim Loach and the young actress, Liana Liberato, who played Bobby’s (Blake Cooper) sister Michelle and discuss the film with them. Here is that discussion.
When we first meet, Liana had to let me know what she thought of the heat. Liana was shocked at how hot it was here in Phoenix. It was only April so I had to inform her that she hadn’t seen anything yet as she was really only catching what we consider spring. I couldn’t help but invite her to come back when the real summer temps kicked in. ‘I’d love to be here for that.’ She tells me. ‘I thought I could handle really cold weather, but I can’t. I can’t handle really hot weather either, so I don’t know where I belong.’ I instantly understood where she was coming from and felt a weather-related kinship. This interview will go well, I told myself. To be honest, it did go really well and I found both Liana and Jim to be extremely considerate, warm and gracious.
When she says she complains a lot about the weather Jim says, ‘I’ve never heard you complain.’ She reminds him, ‘It was cold where we were filming.’ He thinks a moment. ‘Yeah. It rained a lot… one of the issues of this film.’ She interjects, ‘I don’t mind a hot rain. I could do that.’ As if they forgot I was there, she turns to me and says, ‘I’m sorry. Went off on a little tangent.’ We all laugh.
I ask my first question based on a scene from the film where the locals let it be known to the rich people who come and summer in the area that they’re not appreciated as much as they think they are.
Shari: How were the locals with you filming there in Rhode Island?
Jim: It was really, truly, a fantastic experience in Rhode Island. I’d love to go there and make another film. There were some brilliant locations. We ended up shooting in a place called Camp Hoffman, which was a real summer camp, and we shot a lot of the film there. There is a really fantastic local history in Rhode Island, Providence in particular. People were really supportive. I would love to go back there and film; it was a really good experience.
Shari: I’m sure they’d love to have you back.
I turn my attention to Liana.
Shari: I definitely know why you’d want to be involved with this film but what drew you, specifically, to the character of Michelle, the protagonists somewhat unfriendly sister?
Liana: I had just gotten out of my teens when I got the script and I just really related to Michelle and the place she was in, in her life because I was, kind of, just moving out of that. You know, where you’re a teenager and you want to explore and make your own decisions, and not be told what to do and butting heads with your mom. That was something I was just beginning to grow out of so I really related with Michelle. I did find myself saying, ‘It makes sense that she’s sneaking out, that she’s asking her brother to lie. That makes sense! She’s growing up!’ And so, I thought that I could have a lot of fun with the character and I did. I had a lot of fun playing Michelle. Just the sibling dynamic with Bobby, with Blake (Cooper), we had a great time so, yeah… it felt like a really fun film to make and it was.
Shari: And it felt realistic, the relationship between you two. Very believable. Do you have siblings?
Liana: I have a half-sister, but she has a family. I didn’t even live in the same home as her. We’re really close but that could be another reason why I was so drawn to the film was I liked the sibling dynamic. I had never experienced that before.
Good acting and good directing will have you surprised at that revelation because I would have thought she had been drawing from real-life experience for this role to be so real. Jim knew how to pull the performance out of her and her enthusiasm for the part made for an entertaining character to watch.
Shari: Did you study any particular school of acting? Meisner, Adler, Stanislavsky… any of those?
Liana: No. I didn’t.
Shari: Do you it’s necessary to or is acting something inside of you?
Liana: I think it depends on the person. I’ve tried different methods or techniques with acting, depending on the role, and I’m always open to all types of preparation, but I really don’t think there’s a wrong or right way to do it. I think that’s the best part of the job. The spontaneity behind it. You can prep a million different ways and no way is really wrong… in my opinion.
Shari: You won the Silver Hugo Award for Best Actress from the Chicago International Film Festival which has also been won by Hillary Swank and Rebecca Hall.
Liana: I did.
Shari: You must be doing something right.
Liana: I guess so!
Shari: How much does an award like that mean to you?
Liana: I don’t know. I… I think it’s nice. There are so many wonderful actors out there that I don’t know how I stick out but I’m so flattered. I was really young when I got that award and it was actually a surprise. I don’t think it was the best idea, come to think of it, because I was fifteen and they flew me out to Chicago. They were like, you’re just accepting an award on behalf of the movie (Trust). I had no idea that it was for me and I’m the worst speaker… and being fifteen, I was so bad. When I went on the stage and it was for me I was like, ‘I don’t know what to say.’
She laughs and then makes fun of the situation by pretending to be an audience member watching her, nervously, practically speechless, accepting her well-deserved award. ‘This chick won an award? What did she do?’ She laughs again.
Liana: But it was very flattering. Very nice.
I turn my attention to Jim.
Shari: How long ago was this movie shot?
Jim: The end of 2015 to 2016.
Shari: So, the actors… everyone has grown up.
Jim: Everyone has grown up.
Shari: I was looking at pictures of Blake and didn’t recognize him.
Liana: He doesn’t look like the same guy.
Jim: He’s tall. He was taller than me when we shot the film.
Liana: I remember that now. He was almost to the ceiling.
Shari: Now, how did you come to cast him?
Jim: Gosh, I mean… we watched lots and lots of young actors that age, watched lots of tapes and stuff. It sounds like one of those things you say but he stuck out from the very beginning. From the first week. We still went through the process because one always does, and then right at the end we were like, ‘It’s Blake isn’t it?’ So, it was quite simple really. Quite straightforward in some ways because the film is so much through his eyes, it would have been difficult to make the film if you hadn’t nailed that part. We were fortunate really.
Shari: There are parts where I felt that I wanted to jump into the screen and beat everyone up on his behalf. You really feel his pain, his struggle, so you did a good job with him all the way around. Why was the title changed from ‘One Fat Summer’ to what it is now?
Jim: A number of reasons really but ultimately it was a conversation between David and I, David Scearce who wrote the script. ‘One Fat Summer’ is a beautiful title for a book but in terms of it being a real coming of age piece, which we both wanted, we felt ‘Measure of a Man’ played into that so that’s why we changed it.
Shari: Dr. Kahn (Donald Sutherland) being a concentration camp victim. Was that in the book or something that was added to the script to make him a character who’s sympathetic to Bobby’s plight?
Jim: That was David’s idea. That story… we wanted something really simple that had a huge emotional place to land, obviously, upon which you’re understanding where that character could, sort of, pivot and once we started talking about the mid-seventies, that timeline was right. But, it was David’s idea.
Shari: And the striped pajama’s?
Jim: That was Donald’s idea:
Shari: Well, seeing that and the tattoo, you originally don’t like Kahn very much, he’s not being too kind to this child, but then you realize he’s eventually getting him to grow and move out of the prison he has himself in. Was it your idea to not go back and readdress any of that?
Jim: There was a longer scene that we had, actually, where that is explored more but I just felt that the film wasn’t really about that. To really explore that properly, you need to make a film about that, of course, that’s a huge subject. So, ultimately, we kind of felt that they change each other in unsaid ways. You know? It’s not said, they’re not really conscious, necessarily, of the way they change each other and the way each character changes the others character or vice versa. At that age, maybe it’s unconscious, but we thought maybe the scene you’re describing, could happen but happen when Bobby was fourteen and he’d looked back on it and go, ‘That’s what the significance of that was.’ Does that make any sense?
Shari: Yes. Very much so. Something he notices but upon reflection later in life… wow. The scene stayed with me for the rest of the film. It never left the back of my mind because I did not see it coming.
Jim: Well, that’s good. I don’t think you really understand life at that time. Even as an adult, don’t you think? Especially at age fourteen. I don’t think you have a conscious understanding of it. You just have this unconscious feeling that something profound is happening and maybe during your adult life you’ll understand what that was.
Shari: Any advice to indie filmmakers?
Jim: My only advice is to keep going. Keep a sense of the stories you want to tell but also keep in mind how you’re actually going to make it. You know?
Shari: Did you start by making shorts?
Jim: I made a short about a bus driver and it was an absolute disaster… it was terrible.
Shari: Gotta see this.
Jim: It’s somewhere in my loft. Never to be seen again.
Shari: Never to be seen.
Liana: He knows where it is!
Shari: Last question to both of you. How do you know when you’ve ‘Made It’ in this business?
Jim: These questions are really hard and interesting.
Liana: Honestly, I think everyone’s perspectives of ‘Making It’ are so different… I mean, there are definitely milestones that I’ve enjoyed hitting. ‘Wow! I made it over that obstacle and now that I’ve done that, I can conquer my next goal.’ So, I personally, would be in tears if I thought I had made it. I don’t like knowing that. I have way more ahead of me. I don’t think I’ll ever know.
Jim: I think that’s very wise. In a way, what is it? I don’t feel I’ve made it, whatever it is.
Liana: You can’t look at your own career and compare it to others and think, ‘Why don’t I have that?’ You’re probably not going to get that anyway, so you just have to look at your own personal goals and what makes you happy and strive for that, I guess.
Jim: Don’t have a sort of, unconscious analysis of yourself. Don’t you think? Isn’t it better just to go do what you want to do?
Shari: Keep working.
Jim: Keep working. Tell the stories you are able to tell.
Shari: And if you’re no longer happy doing it, it’s time to stop.
Shari: But don’t stop… either one of you.
They smile, thank me, toss me a compliment or two and walk away.
I thank them and tuck them their kind words away for safe keeping… in case I need to analyze myself.
*HERE is my review of the film.