If there’s one thing that can be said about ‘The Cobbler’, it’s that the movie truly goes for it. Yet, what exactly “it” might be is much more difficult to pin down. This movie is absolutely nuts and not in a good way. It might be worth seeing, but only out of inexplicable, perverse curiosity.
The film was written and directed by Tom McCarthy (‘The Station Agent’, ‘The Visitor‘) specifically for Adam Sandler. Based on all of McCarthy’s past work, you might assume that would mean the film is a small and delicate drama about a relatable and pathetic man with hints of humor amidst mountains of humiliation. You’d hope it would be designed to show the acting side of Sandler so rarely unleashed in his broad comedies. Sadly, that’s not at all what ‘The Cobbler’ turned out to be. Instead, it feels like a routine goofball Sandler comedy that McCarthy was brought in to make impossibly earnest in a way that never meshes with the wacky premise. It’s a mess of a movie, but kind of fascinating in how wildly and consistently it flies off the rails.
Sandler stars as a contemporary shoe cobbler who inherited his trade through three generations of cobblers. One day, he discovers a magical sewing machine in his basement that allows him to assume the identity of anyone whose shoes have passed through the machine and onto his feet. Instead of being a bizarre Magical Realist story about loss and identity that McCarthy’s tone suggests, ‘The Cobbler’ then spirals off into a depressing, unfunny and confusing spin on ‘Darkman’, with Sandler assuming various identities to stop some sort of New York housing scandal.
What exactly anyone intended this movie is be is baffling. Everyone plays the material too straight for the concept to deliver on its goofball potential, and it’s simply too silly for audiences to ever take seriously. So, we’re left with a movie completely unsure of its identity, pulling wildly in different directions and meeting in a confused middle. It deserves points for being completely unlike any movie I’ve ever seen, while also serving as proof as to why that’s the case. It’s a mess that means well.