The adage of truly understanding someone by walking a mile in their shoes becomes the literal backbone of this comedy drama from Thomas McCarthy, and starring Adam Sandler. Sandler has never really made good on the promise he showed in Punch Drunk Love, seemingly content with his lot in life. McCarthy on the other hand has credits that include The Station Agent, The Visitor and Up. With him taking Sandler under his wing, and Dustin Hoffman co-starring, there’s the expectation of something magical. Sadly, that’s not to be the case.
Sandler plays Max, a grumpy, lonely cobbler whose only friends in life appear to be his sickly mother and his barber neighbour, Jimmy (Steve Buscemi). Max wishes away his days, looking forward to the moment when the promise of urban renewal will buy him out of his humdrum existence. When he comes across his long absent father’s stitching machine, Max uncovers a magic ability to take on the form of anybody whilst wearing their shoes.
Once this discovery has been made, The Cobbler doesn’t really know what to do with Max’s new found powers. The problem lies with the tone of the film that battles itself to be either a knock about comedy or a social drama laced with magic realism. Max is either scoping out babes in the shower or protecting old people from being evicted. Due to this constant shifting, the narrative drags out until Max’s reason for being is revealed in a twist ending that promises sequels.
Even if the casual racism and sexism of the film is dismissed, The Cobbler struggles with a hero that’s hard to feel compassion for when his journey’s end appears to happen off screen. As such, there will be those who find The Cobbler, considering the pedigree of the director, surprisingly unsatisfactory.