I could look The Cobbler in the face and call it garbage, based solely around its 9% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and the fact that it’s being hailed the biggest flop of Adam Sandler’s career. But do you know what? I actually didn’t mind it, despite its oversized ambitions and whacky storytelling. This is, at its core, a working vehicle that accurately presents a case for Adam Sandler’s dramatic capabilities.
In the film, Sandler plays Max, a lonely middle ager who makes a living working in his dad’s shoe repair shop. While working on replacing a sole on a modern machine, Max discovers a problem when the machine breaks, causing him to go to his last resort: a pedal and crank machine from the early 1900s. This machine has been in the family repair shop for decades and, as Max quickly finds out, possesses magical powers. When any shoe is stitched up by this particular machine, it gives Max to power to transfigure his physical appearance to that of the shoes’ owner (only when he is wearing them).
At first, Max uses this to do lighter things like sneak out of a restaurant without paying for his meal. Then he gets involved with stereotypical bad guys who wield guns, hoard expensive watches, and deal drugs. This stuff comes after the halfway point and yes, it does get a little “out there.” A lot of the movie doesn’t make sense as it is (why doesn’t any customer stick around for the Fixed in 15 Minutes policy?), but it’s only when it kicks into the Max-has-to-be-the-hero stuff that the movie begins to crumble.
As he is adjusting to this newfound power, he transforms himself into a variety of customers. The most recognizable one is that of the disc jockey (played by Dan Stevens, who you may recognize from The Guest). The main new identity is Ludlow, the film’s main antagonist, which is an odd title since Max is going around disguised as him for a majority of the running time. Steve Buscemi has a small role as the barber that works next to the shoe shop, and it’s always nice to see Nucky (he is Nucky from now on). Even Dustin Hoffman has a number of scenes as Max’s deceased father, who comes into play in a scene late in the film that is so off-the-wall that you have to toss logic out the window.
Still, as I watched this movie, I was never bored, even if the story did become a little crazy and unbelievably bizarre. What makes the movie watchable (and indeed, what is the best element of the entire movie) is Adam Sandler, who takes this “just okay” material and makes it something worth watching, giving a dramatic performance that lacks all of his signature comedic ticks. It isn’t a spectacular performance (it’s nothing like his dramatic work in Punch-Drunk Love or Funny People, which are, for my money, his two best films), but it’s a good dramatic performance that really shows us that Sandler is an actor who can act, but unfortunately chooses poor roles (I’m hearing terrible things about his upcoming string of Netflix films).
This feature (from Win Win director Thomas McCarthy) is very small, a well shot indie with a cheap feel that doesn’t always feel unwelcome. I didn’t love this movie (in fact, I barely liked it), but I did enjoy it, and that’s why I’m giving it a positive review. It seems like critics and audiences both are despising it, but what I see here is an interesting fantasy story (nothing remarkable or even logical) that is small and artsy and it’s just relieving to see Adam Sandler going for something like it. It’s not Grown Ups 3, and that alone is something to be thankful for.
‘The Cobbler’ (2015)
1 hr, 39 mins.
Rated PG-13 for some violence, language and brief partial nudity
Starring Adam Sandler
Written by Thomas McCarthy and Paul Sado
Directed by Thomas McCarthy