Oh, Cobbler, Cobbler — what a frustrating film you are!
There was a time when everyone was excited about seeing The Cobbler. It was originally scheduled to come out in 2014 and, along with Men, Women, & Children, it was supposed to be part of the dramatic recreation of Adam Sandler.
After all, one of the main reason why critics like me hate to see Adam Sandler devoting his time to stuff like That’s My Boy is because, in the past, Sandler has actually proven himself to be a surprisingly good and likable dramatic actor. Unfortunately, dramatic Sandler films never seem to make much money and, as a result, Sandler goes back to making films where he, David Spade, and Chris Rock play former high school classmates. If only one Sandler dramedy could be a success, we tell ourselves, then he’d never feel the need to make another movie like Jack and Jill…
(And yes, I realize that’s probably wishful thinking on our part. Even if Adam Sandler somehow won an Oscar, I get the feeling he’d follow the win by starting work on Grown Ups 3….)
The Cobbler promised that not only would Sandler be playing a more low-key role than usual but he would also be directed by Thomas McCarthy, who previously directed the excellent The Visitor and Win Win. Based on his previous films, McCarthy seemed to be the perfect filmmaker to give Adam Sandler some credibility.
And, let’s not forget, that not only would Sandler be working with Thomas McCarthy but Men, Women, & Children was being directed by Jason Reitman! At one point, it truly appeared that 2014 was going to be the year that we saw the rebirth of Adam Sandler.
And then Men, Women, & Children came out and was a disaster, despite the fact that Sandler got fairly good reviews. Meanwhile, rumors started to swirl that just maybe The Cobbler wasn’t as good as McCarthy’s previous film. When The Cobbler‘s release date was pushed back to 2015 … well, we all knew what that meant.
Anyway, The Cobbler was released in a few theaters earlier this year and on VOD. It’s now available on Netflix. I watched it last week and it’s really not as bad as I expected it to be. Of course, that’s not to say that it’s particularly good either. It’s not terrible but it is disappointing. Considering the director and the supporting cast (Dustin Hoffman, Steve Buscemi, Dan Stevens, and Melonie Diaz, who was way too good in Fruitvale Station for you not to regret how this film totally wastes her), The Cobbler should at least be interesting. Instead, it’s just kind of bland.
However, Adam Sandler does give a pretty good performance. In this film, he plays Max, a shy and emotionally withdrawn cobbler. He comes from a long line of cobblers and he inherited his store from his father (Dustin Hoffman). Years before the film begins, Max’s father mysteriously vanished. Now, Max spends his time going to and from work and taking care of his dementia-stricken mother. His only friend is Jimmy (Steve Buscemi), the paternal barber who works next door.
In the basement of Max’s shop, there’s an old stitching machine. About 30 minutes into the film, Max discovers that if be puts on a pair of shoes that have been repaired using the machine, he can physically transform into whoever owns the shoes. After experimenting with being different people, Max eventually puts on his father’s shoes. Transforming into his father, he has dinner with his mother.
The next morning, his mother dies. Max cannot even afford to buy her a good headstone. However, a local criminal (played by Method Man) has dropped off his shoes to be repaired. Perhaps, by wearing the criminal’s shoes, Max can come up with the money…
I’m probably making The Cobbler sound a lot more interesting than it actually is. And seriously, it sounds like it should a really good and thought-provoking movie. Unfortunately, McCarthy awkwardly tries to combine the broadly comedic elements (i.e., Sandler transforming into a variety of eccentric characters) with the dramatic (which includes not only Max’s anger at his father but a few murders as well). The film never finds a consistent tone and, as such, it remains an interesting idea in search of a stronger narrative. Watching the film as it wanders from scene to scene, it’s impossible not to mourn all of the missed opportunities.
But, as I said, Adam Sandler does well. Hiding his face behind a beard and only occasionally offering up a sad smile, Sandler gives a low-key performance that is full of very genuine melancholy. In this film, he proves that he can act when he wants to. You just wish that the rest of The Cobbler lived up to his performance.
Unfortunately, as far as the box office is concerned, The Cobbler is the least financially successful film that Sandler has ever appeared in. This means that plans for Grown-Ups 3 are probably already underway…
(For those keeping track of the progress of Embracing The Melodrama Part II, we are now 123 reviews down with 3 to go.)