Natural law dictates that there are three types of Adam Sandler movies. There’s the stereotypical, juvenile and rather crass Sandler films that make people laugh and make tons of money (which are the majority of Sandler movies that are made). Then there’s the low key, dramatic Sandler flicks that show a range and emotion that isn’t present in those other films, and doesn’t make as much money, but restores faith in the man’s acting abilities. The third type, the one movies like Bedtime Stories and The Cobbler fit into, are films that try to cross breed the two. This just doesn’t work, and for good reason.
Max Simkin (Sandler) runs the family business of a shoe repair shop, which has been in his family since turn of the 20th century New York. Left to take care of his mother ever since his father ran out on them, Simkin only finds himself staying in the business because it’s how he provides for his family. Of course, he may have just discovered an unexpected perk of the job, as an accident forces him to use a magical stitching machine that allows him to take the appearance of whoever’s shoes he’s wearing.
The concept of The Cobbler is the main problem with the film, which is a surprise as Tom McCarthy (of The Station Agent and The Visitor fame) co-wrote and directed this film. This isn’t McCarthy’s usual brand of independent introspection, nor is it Sandler’s usual brand of jackassery. Instead, it’s a half formed hybrid that takes a gag like becoming Method Man or Dan Stevens after putting on their newly repaired shoes and uses it to both get into comedic misadventures, while trying to have an emotional core. Granted, mixing those two aspects isn’t an impossible feat, but considering how in tune McCarthy’s films usually are with their characters, the hijinks just don’t play the way they should. Also, the less said about some of the jokes involving racial stereotypes and a transgender character, the better; as they display as much sensitivity to the issues they’re commenting on as an entry in the Grown Ups franchise.
Yet the greatest disappointment in The Cobbler is that hiding inside of it is a film that could have been worth watching, had it been allowed to develop. Two sub plots involving Max’s mother and the fallout of his father’s departure so long ago, and that of a love interest (Melonie Diaz) trying to get him involved in saving the community, could have been enough grist for a character-driven story with Sandler in the lead. Instead, Adam Sandler’s well-balanced performance is left twisting in the wind. Thankfully, when the film ramps up to its silliest heights, Sandler still manages to ground himself and not devolve into his patented yelling and weird noises.
The Cobbler pieces together several plotlines in an unconvincing fashion, and does so with humor that’s more cringeworthy than laughable. The rare point that it scores comes in the form of Adam Sandler’s redeemable performance, which belongs in another movie altogether, but still makes parts of this project watchable. Tom McCarthy has another film coming out this year, and it’ll probably run circles around The Cobbler, leaving it in the bin of “try and fail” efforts of great directors with films like Popeye and Town And Country to keep it company.