2015 / Director. Thomas McCarthy.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
THE COBBLER is a very strange film and I am still processing it in my mind. I knew very little about it but my response to the theatrical poster was confident. It presented an understated charm and I suspected that it would not fit into the typical Adam Sandler mould. Outside of his generic Happy Madison catalogue Sandler often takes on challenging roles and proves himself to be a competent dramatic actor. My mind was cast back to his performances in films like MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN, PUNCH DRUNK LOVE and REIGN OVER ME and so from the initial point of contact with the poster I was anticipating something more subdued and less comical.
So what is THE COBBLER? It is a comedy. It is also a drama. And it's a thriller. In fact the film's wikipedia entry describes it as a "magic realism" story. Confused? Yep. It was directed by Thomas McCarthy whose previous films include THE STATION AGENT, THE VISITOR and MILLION DOLLAR ARM. This is a director with a strong dramatic sensibility and he brings all of skills as a serious filmmaker to THE COBBLER. The result is a fantasy drama that looks amazing and presents a wonderful washed out lower east side atmosphere. His visual brand is stamped all over the film and the charisma leaps off the screen.
Sandler plays a 3rd generation shoe cobbler who runs his family's store on the lower east side of New York. He is stuck in life and progressively sinking deeper into a depressive state. When his stitching machine breaks down, he dusts off an old vintage machine in the basement and soon discovers that it has magical powers. The machine gives him the ability to step into whichever shoes it stitches and he becomes that person. With a store full of hundreds of unclaimed shoes he is able to become whoever he wants and steps onto the streets to influence his neighbourhood, one sole at a time (as the tagline suggests). The premise sounds completely absurd and it does hark back to the sort of comedies that Jerry Lewis made so many years ago. But the real curiosity of THE COBBLER is that it doesn't play for the comedy. Thomas McCarthy has chosen to take this comical premise and explore it dramatically. We follow Sandler's character as he attempts to use his power for good and finds himself way out of his depth. From surprisingly moving gestures to unexpectedly violent brushes with criminals, the film is in a constant state of fluctuation and on first appearance doesn't seem to know what it wants to be, but in retrospect it's a weird and wonderful journey for the viewer to take, not unlike the TV series QUANTUM LEAP (which is subtly referenced in the film).
The film also stars Steve Buscemi, Dustin Hoffman and Ellen Barkin (amongst others) who all give weight to the concept. Buscemi and Hoffman are particularly crucial to the dramatic arch while Barken's role serves the cliched elements of the story. Sandler looks the part and holds the film well. He refrains from his trademarked aggressive outbursts and plays for a more modest and sincere appeal. The story itself is almost inconsequential with the concept itself taking center stage. It bounces between genres and pinballs between being sentimental and edgy. The film's final act is very nicely handled and various revelations may be unexpected and satisfying for many viewers.
The entire film caught me off guard and the more I contemplate it the more I like it. It is without fanfare and plays for modesty, rather than outrageousness. I will be revisiting it soon.