My Year with Adam is a series of essays that I will post throughout this year. The essays will be deep dives into a film starring Adam Sandler. They will not be traditional reviews, but an exploration of theme and what is conveyed by the central message of the film. Or, really, whatever about the film strikes me the most while watching it. As these are deep dives, no aspect, plot point or quote from the film is off limits, so if you haven't seen the film before and are sensitive to a viewing experience in which you know nothing, then watch the film and come back to the essay. The essays will appear in February, May, August, and November.
The Cobbler is written by Tom McCarthy and Paul Sado and directed by McCarthy. The film is at its core about the old cliché that you can't know a person unless you walk a mile in their shoes. The film takes that one step further as Max, played by Adam Sandler, finds a special stitching machine supposedly gifted to his great-great-great grandfather by Eliyahu Hanavi (Elijah the Prophet). The machine when used, makes it possible for anyone wearing the shoes to look like the shoes' original owner. Though, instead of learning to walk through the world as the people he inhabits, Max uses this special power for his own gain. There's a lot of other truly mind boggling things that happen in this film that made me despise it, but I did find an ounce or two of depth amidst the frustrating plot. The film is a heinous depiction of the dehumanizing practice of capitalism.
It's easiest to start with the most pervasive notions in our culture, that of birthright. Many people believe that there is a necessary legacy to life and work. What it often becomes is an endless cycle of depressed, dejected, and resentful people. Max hates going to work at his father's poorly lit shop everyday. He struggles to come up with the enthusiasm to be there. Jimmy, who we learn later is Max's father in disguise (it's not subtle, the clues are there), gives Max the same old lines. "You're a cobbler, that's your thing," he says and when Max counters that it was his father's thing, Jimmy comes in with the unwinnable argument, "And his father before him. You should be proud." That idea of pride is the myth of stability. The pride one takes in one's work is not tantamount to a sustainable living. Max isn't fixing hundreds of pairs of shoes a day at twelve bucks a piece. He has a ludicrous amount of unpaid repairs sitting in the alcoves behind him. Most people don't even think of shoe repair any more. They just go out and purchase a new pair of shoes when a pair breaks down. Yet, because it's all he's ever trained for, all he's been pushed into since he could walk, the only job training he's ever had, this is it until he can pass it on to the next poor sap in line. That is unless he can find a way out, a sap to remove him from the life of drudgery.
The poorest saps of all are the people Max uses when he wears their shoes out in the world. Max's donning of the shoes in public is supposed to be joyous because Max has finally thrown off the shackles of his oppressive existence. Yet, it's telling what shoes he dons in order to pull off his criminal activities. For skipping out on the large bill at a fancy restaurant, Max dons the shoes of a Black man. The pair could have been any of the shoes in his bag, but these happen to be a nicer pair of dress shoes. This is a rather innocuous crime for sure and would have gone unnoticed if it hadn't been for the second crime. The second crime is a version of grand theft auto. The crime is perpetrated wearing another Black man's shoes. In Leon's shoes, Leon played by Cliff "Method Man" Smith, Max approaches a man he saw getting out of a nice sports car. He proceeds to steal the man's shoes in broad daylight and then take the car for a joy ride as himself, Max. Yet, Max isn't done with Leon for he feels entitled to what Leon has because Leon's not a good person. In this crime, though, Max uses the body of a far more marginalized person. For the theft of the watches, Max holds the real Leon hostage trying to get him to spill the beans. When Max's intimidation tactics don't work in the body of a teenage boy, he tries a different tact and puts on the red, platform stiletto heels that belong to a transgendered or at least gender non-binary person Max later names "Marsha," "Marsha" being played by Yul Vazquez. Of course, this persona enrages Leon even more because of his ingrained transphobia, putting trans, gender non-conforming and non-binary people at risk of Leon's wrath. With these three choices, Max has done what the capitalist system has done to minority workers for centuries. He's exploited their being for his own gain. Even worse, he's done so by putting their lives and livelihoods at risk with his antics. Leon even says, "You can't hide looking like you do." Which could be applied to any of the personas Max inhabits as he does whatever he feels like.
A small tangent here. Max does attempt another crime, this time not as a Black man, but in the visage of the handsome Brit Emiliano. He tries and fails to rape two women. Now if you've seen the film you may know the sequence of scenes referred to here, but may be confused because they're both played for laughs. Here it is spelled out, rape's definition includes sexual intercourse perpetuated when a partner cannot give their proper consent because of a deception. While Max is wearing Emiliano's skin, he's deceiving these women and if he didn't change back if his shoes were removed, he would have followed through. He's not a good person because he walked out of the bathroom where Taryn, played by Kim Cloutier, showers after he realizes taking off the shoes would spoil the ruse. He's just a person who realized he couldn't get away with rape. Max feels powerless in his own life and so he decides to take power from others he feels he's been wronged by because he assumes they wouldn't be attracted to him. Like all capitalist thinkers, Max will bring low anyone else as long as his own needs are satisfied in the end.
Max needs money like all people who live under capitalist oppression. As many people do, he believes money will be his savior. His belief is so strong he develops that singular capitalistic urge to take money when it is presented. Leon presents himself to Max as a person who deserves to be robbed. Leon's money has been ill gotten and he's a prick about, flaunting it at Max using the vernacular of the oppressed with phrases like, "Time is money," and "Can't knock the hustle. Work hard, play harder. Right, player?" This character is the embodiment of everything Max hates and loves about money. He hates the fact that Leon comes about it so easily, but loves the idea of tricking a man he thinks is the bad guy and doing something nice for his mother. Then he meets the other side of the coin, someone who doesn't have to hustle, but does because it's never enough. Elaine, played by Ellen Barkin, when asked by Max as "Marsha," "You don't have enough?" says definitively, no. The corruption of wealth is that it's never enough because there could always be more. It's a lesson the filmmakers seem to have taken to heart as well.
Yes, as much as the film before it is a muddled, complicated morality, the filmmakers have tacked on scenes at the end that suggest the film could be a franchise because this film was a superhero origin story all along. It makes sense. When this film was in production, superhero films were the top grossing films, creating and surpassing new records left and right. It makes sense that this small, magical realism, morality play about a cobbler, a forgotten and lost profession, would actually be about a network of magical tradesman who use their trades in order to make the world better. This turn in the film is tone deaf and poses far more questions than it will answer, but it's obvious why the filmmakers chose this route. They knew their small indie film could only survive if it could pull off some strong word of mouth and this big shift in the energy of the film could make people, with a giddy glee, tell their friends they have to watch this movie and stay to the end. The filmmakers probably laughed in excitement at the prospect of The Cobbler 2: The Shoe's on the Other Foot. Yet, as with all gimmicks that pander rather than respect, this one fails to have a true pay off. It only further muddles an already muddy plot. Greed will inevitably lead to a down fall.
As a film, The Cobbler is poorly executed. The convoluted plot that adds far too many threads to an unstable story is unpleasant and unwieldy in its narrative. The one thing The Cobbler has going for it is its indictment of capitalism. Whether or not the filmmakers intended the film as such is debatable. The concepts of birthright both in profession and wealth, the exploitative nature of the beast both in the false power it grants and the privilege it has inherent within it, and the greed that drives us beyond compassion are all within the text. If only it were a watchable text. That is the problem with a film like this, there's something to be gleaned from it, but in order to get to it there have to be sacrifices of taste and logic.