Hatewatch #3: The Cobbler (The adventures of pickle-eating, shoe-fixing Jewish Superman)
In this new regular feature, I am travailing through the world of bad films to find hidden gems, terrible disappointments, and the worst of the worst. Films are rated on a scale of: ‘Good’, ‘Not Bad’, ‘So Bad It’s Good’, ‘Bad’, ‘Boring’, and ‘THE FUCKING WORST’.
You can’t blame Adam Sandler for trying. In 2002, he had his first dramatic role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s wonderful romance Punch-Drunk Love, a film in which Sandler twisted his usual shtick to reveal a tortured, emotionally stunted man – Happy Gilmore played as a tragedy. Since Punch-Drunk Love, Sandler has only sporadically ventured away from comedy into darker fare, receiving good reviews for his performances in Spanglish, Reign Over Me, and Funny People (in which he was perfectly cast as a bitter comedian who makes unfunny comedies).
Unfortunately, all of Sandler’s dramatic films have gained mediocre reviews and poor box office returns. It’s no wonder Sandler keeps running back into the arms of unfunny friends David Spade and Kevin James to make more Happy Madison productions (including genuine horseshit like Jack and Jill, Grown Ups, and Blended).
In 2015, six years after the underrated Funny People tanked at the box office, Sandler finally had another go at drama with a potentially interesting new film; called The Cobbler, the film told the story of a lonely Jewish man who fixes shoes for a living, and was to be directed by acclaimed indie stalwart Thomas McCarthy (The Station Agent, The Visitor). Would The Cobbler feature Sandler’s best performance to date, and give him his first successful drama in 13 years?
Sweet Jesus no.
The Cobbler was a failure in every way, flopping its way into cinemas with the colossal thud of a dead whale. A comedy drama without comedy or drama, The Cobbler is so fundamentally misguided it’s almost unbelievable. This isn’t so bad it’s good; this is so bad it’s impossible. Critics were far from kind. The film received just 9% on Rotten Tomatoes, a lower score than Grown Ups, That’s My Boy, and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. Somehow, audiences were even harsher; staying away in droves, the film didn’t even gross $1 million. Clearly the world wasn’t ready for a Jewish, pickle-eating, race-baiting, rape-debating, shoe-fixing superhero. Neither was I.
The film opens with a prologue set in early 1900’s New York, in which a group of Jewish men discuss their enemy and hand over his shoes to the local cobbler, thus setting up the film’s two major themes; footwear and Judaism (McCarthy and Sandler have created a film so thoroughly Jewish, it makes Fiddler On The Roof look like Triumph of the Will). The borderline incomprehensible prologue is supposed to be an origin story to the film’s main plot, but it’s too boring and confusing to raise any intrigue.
Flashing forward to the present day, Adam Sandler’s Cobbler (I don’t care what his actual name is, he’s Cobbler from here on out) goes to work, fixes shoes, and does other things that aren’t remotely interesting. Within 90 seconds, you’ll realise just one of the film’s many fatal flaws; cobbling is the dullest job in cinematic history. In case you walked into the film thinking it would be an interesting look at fixing shoes, it isn’t. The Cobbler might get away with this if the titular character was interesting or charismatic or had a robot sidekick or literally anything else. Here comes fatal flaw #2, and I almost can’t believe I’m about to say this:
Adam Sandler gives the worst performance of his career in The Cobbler.
It seems impossible. This is the man who once played his own sister in Jack And Jill. This is the man who coasted by on goofing off with his friends in Grown Ups. The thing is, even in dreck like Grown Ups, Sandler had some charisma, no matter how little there was. In The Cobbler, he’s nothing but a mumbling frowning sad sack. I’ve seen beige carpets give livelier performances.
Soon, the side plot is introduced when Melonie Diaz’s community worker visits him with a petition to stop developers tearing down the neighbourhood. I felt strangely sick upon realising Diaz was playing Sandler’s love interest; she’s nearly twenty years younger than him, and looks younger than that. Could they not have cast somebody older-looking to avoid making Sandler look so predatory? Thankfully, Diaz and the neighbourhood plot only take up about ten minutes of the running time.
After fifteen minutes and zero laughs, Method Man shows up as an angry thug threatening Cobbler to work faster. While this starts the film’s racist streak, at least Method Man livens things up a little bit. Noticing they wear the same size shoe, Cobbler tries on Method Man’s shoes and transforms into the rap sensation, in a scene so lame and over-the-top, it provided the film’s sole laugh. Sadly, the humour died in excruciating pain seconds later when Cobbler tried on lots of shoes, turning into a different whacky persona each time. I laughed more during Reign Over Me, Sandler’s 9/11 film, than I did during this sequence.
Once Cobbler discovers this amazing power, he tests it out with one of the creepiest scenes this side of a snuff film. Dressing as an elderly Indian man, Cobbler goes next door to visit his only friend, (a friendly barber played by Steve Buscemi), laughs a few times, stares with the eyes of an axe murderer, and leaves. I had nightmares for days.
After a montage of Cobbler being the world’s shittiest superhero (using his miraculous powers to go on a swing and skip paying the bill in fancy restaurants), McCarthy throws in a scene so racist, I had to rewind it to check I wasn’t hallucinating again. Cobbler disguises himself as a black man to rob a skinny white man and take his car. Let me repeat that; a middle aged Jewish man disguises himself as an intimidating black guy in order to rob a small white man. McCarthy directed Spotlight, a film about justice for the Catholic Church’s abused victims, and I still don’t think he’s redeemed himself for this scene.
Cobbler next uses his power to become hunky local DJ Dan Stevens, who elevates the film through presence alone. Disguised as the handsome Brit, Cobbler goes to a swanky bar and orders a pickle-based beverage. Oh, I’m sorry, did I not mention the pickles?
McCarthy shoehorns pickles into literally every scene; Cobbler eats pickles, talks about pickles, and presumably reflects on pickles in the quieter scenes. Surprisingly, the pickles do play into the ending of the film. This is a film in which pickles are a major plot point. Christ.
As Dan Stevens, Cobbler goes to his house where he discovers Stevens’ girlfriend inviting him to steamy shower sex. In a normal film, Cobbler would probably realise how wrong it is to have sex with a woman while pretending to be someone else. Not in The Cobbler. The only reason the lovable rogue doesn’t become a rapist is because he’d have to take his shoes. Buffalo Bill was a more likable character than this twat.
Most of the film sees Sandler becoming different people and fucking around. In the film’s most-sickly scene, he wears his father’s old shoes and turns into Dustin Hoffman (such a pro, he almost achieves poignancy) so he can go on a date with his Mum while pretending to be her late husband. It’s so icky you’ll need a shower afterwards. This is followed by another misguided scene of Cobbler’s Mum dying. It’s troubling that, in a film advertised as a comedy, the tone doesn’t remotely change when an old lady dies.
In the next sub-plot, The Cobbler turns into a lame gangster film when Cobbler stalks Method Man, breaks into his house, and electrocute himself on a tazer in a scene so unfunny, I cringed my way into arthritis. The entire Method Man subplot could be described as “tonally schizophrenic”. One second, Cobbler and Method Man are having goofy mirrored antics, the next Cobbler is being tortured and only escapes by murdering the gangster with (of course) a shoe. Ah, the Cobbler. He’s not the murdering, raping, incestuous, shoe-fixing, pickle-eating hero we deserve, but the one we don’t need.
As utterly shitbrained and wrong as The Cobbler has been up to this point, it’s been at least somewhat interesting. Sadly, it gets far more boring when McCarthy re-introduces the perfunctory “save-the-neighbourhood” plot. In a film about magical shoes and shapeshifting, The Cobbler boils down to taking on big business. How can you be so mental and yet so dull? In the end, the Cobbler uses his magical reebok powers to defeat the rich villains and save the community, as well as securing a date with Melonie “I was in Fruitvale Station for fuck’s sake” Diaz. That’s all folks. Go home and think about what you’ve done.
Oh wait. That’s not the end. It’s time for the crazy fucking twist. A twist so bizarre and ridiculous, even M. Night Shymalan would stand up and say “what the fuck is going on?” A twist so out there, it almost redeems the film. Almost. I’m going to spoil the twist to save you all two miserable hours of your lives.
After being kidnapped, Cobbler wakes up in Buscemi’s barber shop. Offering Cobbler a pickle, the barber explains how pickles give Cobbler his shapeshifting powers. I told you Checkov’s pickles would come back into play. Popeye had spinach. Samson had hair. Cobbler has pickles. How does Buscemi know so much about pickles and shapeshifting? He takes off his shoes to reveal – holy shit! – he’s actually Dustin Hoffman wearing another the barber’s shoes. That’s right; Cobbler’s Dad has been disguising himself as a respected character actor for thirty years to keep an eye on his son. What an absolute lunatic.
Hoffman and Cobbler have a moral responsibility. They are, I shit you not, the “guardians of souls”. Do you get it? Because souls and soles sound the same. We’ve been watching a superhero origin story, and the film ends with Dustin Hoffman introducing his son to the magical world of being able to wear different shoes. Roll credits. Curtains down. Wait for applause that never comes.
The Cobbler is made of so many odd elements, it’s become my longest review by far. Don’t take this as a recommendation. Despite being incredibly weird and inappropriate, it’s too dull for most of its runtime to qualify as so-bad-it’s-good. What were Thomas McCarthy and Adam Sandler thinking? The Cobbler is a comedy drama that lacks any comedy or drama whatsoever. The acting is atrocious, the writing is bizarre, the story is wrong on multiple levels; how could a talent like McCarthy think this film was a good idea? It’s so strange, jarring, and hateful, it really has to be seen to be believed. The Cobbler is a terrible film, but it’s a terrible film you’ll never forget.
Thomas McCarthy redeemed himself for this abomination by directing prestigious, Oscar-winning Catholic Church corruption drama Spotlight soon after. As for Adam Sandler? He retreated back to Happy Madison to film The Ridiculous Six. After seeing The Cobbler, perhaps that’s for the best.
Final Verdict: BAD
NEXT TIME ON HATEWATCH: Fifty Shades of Grey
By Harry J. Ford
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