Riding on the turd-coloured rainbow that’s currently trailing Pixels, the other Adam Sandler movie on our radars released in the next month is The Cobbler. Do you remember the trailer? It starts with such promise; it looks like a gritty, grim drama, starring Adam Sandler as Max Simkin, a performance where his finger is firmly on the ‘understated’ button. Had this actor, who should win an award for his combination of prolificacy and terribleness, trumped our expectations? Had he finally realised his potential from Punch Drunk Love as a fine actor? These hopes are quickly dashed when, in the trailer, Simkin finds a magical stitching machine that allows him to transform into the owner of any of pair of shoes he repairs. So, this is actually going to be more like Click, then.
Now Simkin is able to literally put himself in another person’s shoes, he’s found a new purpose. But in meddling with the identities of others, he unwittingly embarks down some paths he should have avoided; taking the form of mob boss Leon Ludlow (Method Man (yes, that Method man)), he becomes tangled in a web of missing money, murder, and some very pissed off gangsters. The story itself takes a lot of interesting turns, and it’s clear that the movie is earnestly trying to say something meaningful about community – but its ambition is mired in a willingness to also be as stupid as possible, resulting in a film that’s constantly at odds with itself. Interestingly, The Cobbler is directed by Tom McCarthy, who helmed The Station Agent, The Visitor, and Win Win. You probably watched those movies and felt like you were in the hands of a master; these modern classics resonate with us through their beautiful worldviews on isolation, justice, and society at large.
The better parts of The Cobbler do, too; Max’s unwillingness to take part in a world that’s bigger than himself evolves, painfully and slowly, into something approaching acceptance. It’s a beautiful sentiment, until it’s mangled in idiocy; for every thoughtful move the film makes, there’s an extraordinarily stupid moment or revelation lying in wait. The movie’s personality is that of compromise, and Compromise is Adam Sandler’s middle name (actually, it’s Richard. Which sounds close enough to Compromise if you say it really fast).
The Cobbler wants you to walk out of the cinema and look at the world in a new way, from the perspective of someone who isn’t necessarily like you in any respect. That’s one of cinema’s greatest powers: we can experience the lives of others through the medium, and it’s as close to another’s perspective as we can get. The film tries to achieve this in a literal sense, but it doesn’t have the smarts to match its heart, or the follow-through on a loveably ‘80s life-swap idea to make any of it stick. The Cobbler could easily have been Sandler’s low-key, critically adored return to grace; somehow, irreparably, it’s turned out like any of the landfill-ready movies he’s helped bring to the screen of late. Even if Sandler’s shtick is wearing thin, as an all-consuming parasite, it remains disturbingly strong.