The sky is blue. Adam Sandler movies are bad. These are two immutable facts of life, and yet, every now and then, there are exceptions to these rules. Sometimes the sky takes on various twilight hues. Sometimes Sandler tones down his obnoxious persona to make a film that is actually worth watching, like Punch Drunk Love. The Cobbler would like you to believe that it belongs in the sky of a setting sun, but really, it does not take a hard look to realize that it is a shade of teal, only barely distinguishable from a bright summer’s day.
Following the life of Max Simkin (Sandler), a cobbler in a downtown neighborhood who hates his life due to its monotony and inconsequence, while simultaneously lamenting his and his mother’s abandonment by his father. Upon discovering an old sole stitching machine in his shop’s basement, Max discovers that he can take on the form of anyone by slipping into their shoes, so long as they have been mended by that machine. Now Max can live as other people and see how they live.
Despite this somewhat interesting premise and adequately coherent direction, the film fails to really find a footing as far as having a discernible plot. At first, Max just messes around, using his newfound powers for mischief and for random acts of silliness. Then, the plot shifts into needing to steal funds after Max’s mother dies. Then the plot shifts once again to the prevention of an evil scheme by a real estate tycoon to kill an old man who refuses to leave his home. And through all this, Max never really develops as a character. Shifting plot focus wouldn’t be such an issue if Max had any character to him whatsoever, but most of “Max’s” screentime is portrayed by actors other than Sandler, doing their best Sandler impressions. This has the inherent consequence that Max never has any sort of character arc, making the whole narrative entirely pointless. This is almost a shame, considering how unusually subdued Sandler plays this role.
Ultimately, though, that restraint only offers the illusion of sophistication, as the primary sources of the film’s so-called humor are something to which Sandler is no stranger. During the course of his various transformations, Max embodies a stereotypical black gangster, a caricature of a transgender woman, and the cliché of an extremely handsome ladies’ man who is secretly gay. For a film that has the supposed premise of walking in the shoes of others, it has very little understanding of any perspectives beyond those that are white, male, cisgender, and straight, and uses Max’s transformative qualities to paint a portrait of everyone except for the hegemony as strange, worthy of mockery, or just scary based on the color of their skin.
The Cobbler is shot and directed as an indie-circuit dramedy piece, but at the end of the day, it’s just another trip through the meandering and casually prejudiced world that is Adam Sandler’s film career. This film may not be a Happy Madison production, but it might as well be; for all its purported class, this one is just as terrible as anything else its star has been a part of.
What would you say are Adam Sandler’s diamonds in the rough, if he arguably has any at all? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.