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The tragedy of Adam Sandler is not that he keeps making juvenile, mean-spirited, painfully unfunny "comedies" through his Happy Madison production company. The tragedy is that he's an immensely talented actor who's either relegated to or wants to keep doing bottom of the barrel material. Even though my frustrations about Sandler continuously putting out material we know is way below his talents is palpable, it's hard to blame him for going back to the well that made him successful in the 90s, one that still makes him a hefty amount of cash.
Whenever he tried his hand at dramatic roles, it resulted in continuous failure at the box office. In a way, Sandler created a collective monster of staggeringly low IQs in his vast core audience. They're the ones who practically bankroll his terrible Happy Madison movies, but dare to stray from that awful formula for even a second, and he is persona non grata to his fans. The first great Sandler performance fans like to point out is of course Punch Drunk Love, where Sandler used his trademark caricature of a goofy loser with anger management issues in order to turn in a surprisingly tender and layered performance. However, I also dig his turns in underappreciated films like Spanglish, Funny People, and even Reign Over Me.
The Cobbler stands in an odd middle ground between Sandler's Happy Madison work and his more "legitimate" dramatic output, and that's what turns it into a fascinating failure. Yes, it's an atonal mess and somewhat of a train wreck, but it also takes chances with its already insane and insanely stupid premise, and that alone is worth at least a little bit of credit, if not a modicum of praise.
The Cobbler is not a Happy Madison production, which makes it better than most of Sandler's output by default. It doesn't have those films' lazy look and cynical approach. The good folks at Red Letter Media keep calling Happy Madison films scams for good reason, since they look like student films bankrolled by the fact that they whore themselves out to corporations while turning into shameless advertisements. The "story" in Jack and Jill practically stops so we can watch a long commercial for a cruise line. Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 in its entirety is a commercial for Wynn casinos. And can someone please tell me where the absurdly high 80-100 million dollar budgets for these movies go? It's definitely not on the screen.
Yet this time, we get a legitimately good-looking indie, one where we can see the cast and crew giving their best to create something special. Thomas McCarthy, who's a master of character studies about lonely men, directed it. His The Station Agent and especially The Visitor are amongst the best American indies of the last decade. His attempt at a fable disguised as a comedy at least looks great, starting with the gorgeous sepia-toned period sequence at the beginning.
The story is about a New York cobbler named Max (Adam Sandler), who's tired of his vocation, one that was handed down to him through many generations. Thanks to an ancient stitching machine, one whose powers are hinted at during the aforementioned prologue that takes place during the beginning of the 20th century, he finds out that he can transform into the owner of any pair of shoes simply by wearing them. At first, he uses this power to see what it's like to be a part of a different race, which brings about some almost-Happy Madison-level awkward racial humor, and to try to hook up with a crush by pretending to be her boyfriend, which, I dunno, sounds like rape to me. The fact that the sex doesn't take place due to a technicality doesn't make his actions less disgusting.
Eventually, Max decides to help his neighborhood by using his powers to defeat an evil land baron (An awkwardly cast Ellen Barkin) as the screenplay by McCarthy and Paul Sado turns into a woefully misguided shoe-based superhero movie, which leads us to the most insane and jaw-dropping ending to any film I've seen from last year. Of course I can't spoil it here, but this mess of a movie might be worth sitting through just for that climax. Yes, The Cobbler doesn't work, and yes, it was a financial failure, but I sincerely wish someone would Kickstart a sequel just so we could see the next chapter in the Cobbler Cinematic Universe.
Say what you will about The Cobbler's story, narrative execution and performances, all of which are full of glaring problems, but this is a good-looking film. The 1080p transfer perfectly captures the prologue's warm sepia tones and seamlessly moves on to the more gritty and cold look of McCarthy's New York. There aren't any glaring video noise issues and the presentation is as clear as it gets.
The DTS-HD 5.1 track is serviceable for the story the film tries to represent. This is a dialogue heavy film and the dialogue scenes come off clean and are mixed well. The score is the only time when we get some surround presence or noticeable depth in the surround mix.
Making of The Cobbler: This is a very standard 15-minute EPK/Featurette, intercutting some behind the scenes footage with interviews from the cast and crew praising the film. It's a little sad to watch the excitement and the enthusiasm in the interviewees' faces, since we know how the film's fate at the box office turned out.
We also get a Trailer.
One minute a wholesome fable, the next a creepy dark comedy about a stalker who can turn into other people, then a violent vigilante movie, complete with a character who gets impaled in the neck with a stiletto heel, The Cobbler is somewhat of an atonal disaster. Yet the fact that it takes many chances with its story is at least more commendable than the predictability and laziness of Happy Madison films. I can't wholeheartedly recommend it, not even for a rental, but that ending, whoo boy, that ending…
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com