Thursday, 26 November 2015

The Cobbler (2015) - Movie Review

Yep, we’re looking at another Adam Sandler film. For as much as I’ve brought up how some of his films are just grade-F wastelands, I seem to have developed a pattern where I have been defending the man’s work a lot more than I ever thought I would. Hell, my better-than-the-norm reception for Blended is the entire reason that I now have a yearly tradition of listing films that I disagree with the consensus on. Well, with any luck, things will be a little easier to deal with this time around as I’m looking at a Sandler film not produced by Happy Madison Productions. Who knows, maybe we could get another Funny People or Punch Drunk Love here. Or maybe we’ll get a film that has a lower approval rating than Pixels… seriously.

The plot: Max (Adam Sandler) is a cobbler who works in New York’s Lower East Side. When his stitching machine breaks, he discovers an older one in the basement of his shop that used to belong to his father (Dustin Hoffman). Whenever he uses it to fix a pair of shoes, and then puts them on, he discovers that he turns into their original owner. While trying to keep this new found gift a secret from his neighbours, he tries to use it in order to help them and, hopefully, avoid turning out like his father.

Two minutes in, and the film has already gone with the quip "To know a man, you have to walk in his shoes". It sounds like this is leading up to something, like the stitcher’s ability is able to literally change a person’s perspective for another. This isn’t even remotely the case; if anything, all it seems to do is change everyone else’s perspective about him. It is both literally and figuratively just looking at the surface. Rather than giving the main character any kind of insight about how other people live their lives, all we seem to get is the traditional ‘initial use of superpower for personal gain’ that is as prevalent as the notion of ordinary people gaining extraordinary abilities. How Max uses the power ranges from the weird, like messing with his neighbouring barber played by Steve Buscemi, to the surprisingly touching, like dining with his mother as his father, to the what the hell were you thinking, like Max almost having sex with a woman (Kim Cloutier) by pretending to be her boyfriend (Dan Stevens). Yeah, the implications that scenario raises cast an extremely dark shadow over the rest of this film.

It never truly reaches bottom of the barrel at any other point and, aside from that one very alarming moment, it’s certainly a lot better than its reputation would give it credit for. It also helps that that one particular moment isn’t done with the usual maliciousness of a That’s My Boy, but was probably a result of writer/director Thomas McCarthy not thinking enough about the horrifying insinuations of that particular scene. Not that it excuses his actions any, and I would still question why ‘Marsha’ is used as much as she is, but thankfully it doesn’t go for the hideously offensive like, say, almost every other Adam Sandler film. The idea of people literally confronting themselves through Max wearing their shoes has a lot of potential, and it’s teased in a couple of moments, but what we get is still perfectly fine. Hell, I’m still laughing at the faux-zombie gag as I write this.

Method Man has a main supporting role in this movie. And no, this isn’t the hip-hop hero to stoners everywhere like he is today; this is more Tical era "Let me pull your brain out your ass with a hanger" Method Man. Not only does he pull off intimidating well enough, but he does well at playing as Sandler playing as him as well; the double negative routine is a real test for any actor, and I’m genuinely taken aback by how well Method did here with it. Alongside him and a reasonable performance from Sandler, if a bit bland, Steve Buscemi is a nice mentor figure, Ellen Barkin gives a certain dignity to what is otherwise a one-joke dementia role as Max’s mother and Dustin Hoffman as Max’s father… okay, mild *SPOILER* warning but the final scene, where he gets his time to shine, is a big compressed ball of plot that would realistically be another film all on its own. I expect to go to sleep tonight and just have that film reel out in my brain overnight like a buy bomb from Transmetropolitan. Not only that, while Hoffman himself is still a good actor, the role itself is pretty damn misguided as he takes the abandoning father angle and pushes it into phenomenally unlikeable levels.

The plot is unfocused, in that it doesn’t really seem able to reconcile the moments where Max tests out what the shoes can do and the overarching plot involving real estate shake-ups. Not the most engrossing subject in the world and, as a whole, the film is a bit off when it finally devotes screen time to it. While the finale, where Max creates a fairly convoluted but still well executed plan (both in and out of the film’s universe) makes for fun viewing, the majority of the film can get dull at times. This really isn’t helped by the ending since it makes all the slow-paced attempts at realism seem pointless, as it opens up an almost Kingsman-esque comic book world of possibilities for story. It’s like McCarthy came up with the idea just as he was finishing his first draft, but the studios didn’t let him let re-write it.

All in all, I once again have to play devil’s advocate and say that this film isn’t all thatbad. In fact, I genuinely consider it to be far better than Pixels as not only does this manage to deliver on its humour at times but it also managed to get me worked up when it attempted a more sensitive moment. Yeah, I admit it, I got a bit choked up watching an Adam Sandler film; I would be ashamed if I wasn’t so surprised.

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