I will be the first to admit that I don’t like Adam Sandler, or more accurately, his back catalogue. However, I was intrigued by The Cobbler. Here was a film that wasn’t a Happy Madison production and didn’t have scenes where our “hero” mocked women/the elderly/people of different races/sexualities, yet was still garnering the sort of scores his usual output deservedly gets.
The Cobbler tells the story of Max Simkin (Sandler), a small town cobbler who ends up using a special stitcher machine that enables him to become different people and nigh-on literally walk a mile in their shoes. My problem with the whole thing is that the film is neither quirky or witty enough to make the premise work. Given to someone like Wes Anderson, the premise could have sung, but this is strangely pedestrian for such a high concept. Sandler is on auto-pilot the entire time. Big stuff happens to him, but his face barely cracks out of looking disinterested. Part of this is the fact that he becomes other people, so they do the emoting for him, but I could have done with something to make me connect with Max as a guy. The rest of the cast are decent enough, but barely used. Steve Buscemi plays a bored-looking man. Cliff “Method Man” Smith was a surprisingly entertaining presence though. I liked seeing Dan Stephens for a brief couple of minutes too.
Let’s go back to that premise. Max comes across a machine that lets him walk in other peoples’ shoes. That’s pretty cool as an idea, but surely the dramatic meat is to be found in Sandler’s character understanding what makes his customers tick. When Method Man’s character Leon showed up being an arsehole for no reason, I figured that there was some tragic backstory that would explain just why Leon acts the way he does. Turns out I was dead wrong. Leon is just a jerk who needs Max to right his wrongs for him. Max doesn’t learn anything from any of the people he turns into. If anything, the various people benefit from having Max change into them, which is a completely topsy-turvy way of telling a story. This’d be a real avant garde piece of art if it wasn’t so goddamn stupid.
The film isn’t completely irredeemable. There are some concessions to actual storytelling. Trouble is that they’re mediocre at best. I imagine if you hadn’t seen any film before, some of the narrative twists could pull the rug out from under you, but for the rest of us, there’s nothing much there. I quite liked Max’s relationship with his mother. Mama Simkin is old, alone and has dementia, requiring Max’s love and attention. It’s quite touching seeing Max mollify his mother by promising to ask out a girl from his past- someone who has since married and had three children. The few scenes they have together hit on character truths not found in the rest of the film. They were frustrating hints at something better.
I just can’t see who The Cobbler is actually for. Fans of Sandler’s usual work will be disappointed by the lack of fart gags and people who enjoy actual films will be equally let down. I suppose that if you want a gentle, vaguely quirky film then The Cobbler may be your cup of tea, but there are so many other better choices out there. Not recommended.
Comedy | USA, 2014 | 12 | Entertainment One | 4th January 2016 (UK) | Dir.Tom McCarthy |Adam Sandler, Dustin Hoffman, Steve Buscemi, Cliff ‘Method Man’ Smith, Melonie Diaz | Buy:[DVD]