Published Mar 12, 2015The premise of Thomas McCarthy's follow up to The Station Agent and Win Win is the type of story live action Disney has been putting out since Freaky Friday. Adam Sandler plays a lowly cobbler named Max Simkin, operating his fourth-generation shoe repair store out of a Brooklyn neighbourhood currently under the threat of demolition in order to reign in new high-rise building developments.
Simkin's life is lonesome and banal until he discovers a magical turn-of-the-century cobbling machine that allows him to literally walk in the shoes of another man. Films like Punch Drunk Love and even Funny People proved that Sandler could be a worthy onscreen personality when paired with the right director, so there was hope that The Cobbler would be another sign that Sandler is wasting his potential on the half-baked films of Happy Madison Productions. But what starts as a whimsical enough tale of a schmo experimenting with alternate identities descends quickly into a tired plot with no interest in deconstructing the family friendly genre as better films like Melvin Van Peebles' racially conscious Watermelon Man did 40 years ago.
This is not to say that The Cobbler isn't without its charms. Delightful supporting players like Steve Buscemi, Dustin Hoffman and Ellen Barkin save the film from total unwatchability with honest portrayals of uncomplicated characters, but even the joy of watching a good-natured Buscemi performance isn't enough to rescue a film with such little substance to offer. Sadly, it doesn't even succeed as a mindless comedy; toward the end of the film an audience member in the theatre pretended to throw his shoe at the screen and earned far more laughs from the theatre than anything coming from the screen.
I'm sure Thomas McCarthy meant well when he decided to tell this meaningless fable — we've certainly seen him do good work before — but ultimately, The Cobbler is no better or worse than the most mediocre of the magic comedies one imagines McCarthy was hoping to rise above, and that isn't saying very much.