I’ve seen some bad movies that have made me rage recently, but though it is a profoundly bad movie—I mean that literally, it is profound in its badness—The Cobbler starring Adam Sandler isn’t upsetting to watch. It’s mostly just boring, and then toward the end it’s actually confounding. It’s this close [ ] to so-bad-it’s-good territory—the ending is preposterous—but ultimately it’s too boring to count as actual entertainment. Sometimes you see a high concept movie that doesn’t work out and think, Well, it must have looked good on paper. Like the Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending, which is completely demented but is the product of people trying hard to do something original but face-planting. The Cobbler isn’t like that, though. I can’t imagine it ever looked like a good idea, and no one is trying to make it be anything.
Trying to recreate the magic of Punch Drunk Love, Adam Sandler stars as Max Simkin, a borderline depressed man who runs his family’s cobbling business. At the beginning of the movie, Max finds out that his Lower East Side neighborhood is being threatened with gentrification, and he’s so disenchanted with life as a New York City cobbler that he’s willing to take the money and run. But then he discovers that an old stitching machine in his shop has a magical power—if Max repairs shoes with that machine, and then puts on the shoes, he becomes the shoes’ owner. He begins repairing and wearing all kinds of shoes, literally “walking a mile” as someone else.
At this point, I thought, Oh, that’s what this movie is. Max is going to walk around as the unique and colorful individuals in his neighborhood and gain empathy for others and through that empathy learn to appreciate everything he has and his place in this special little community. And he’ll hold out against the gentrification because he’s come to love the last of the unique New York neighborhoods.
That is not what happens. Instead of any of that, what happens is that Max treats these glimpses into other people’s lives like he’s trading costumes. At no point does empathy enter into the equation. He puts on a pair of red pumps and becomes a transgendered woman, but instead of exploring what it means to be transgendered, he just pokes his junk and makes an icky face, and then other people tell him he’s ugly. He dons the expensive shoes of a good looking guy (played by the super good looking Dan Stevens) and discovers that the good looking guy is bisexual, but instead of delving into what it’s like to be bi, he just tries to pick up a hot chick. Becoming a rich guy is just about joyriding in his car, and being a black teen is a disguise for slipping in and out of shady buildings. It’s exactly as offensive as it sounds.
Just when you’re like, Ugh, the only interesting thing about this is how offensive it is, The Cobbler takes a hard left into Crazytown, population: this movie. Max decides to end the gentrification threat by using the disguises provided by the shoes and the tone of the movie shifts from “bland drama” to “world’s worst superhero movie”. He uses the shoes to accidentally murder a slumlord, then assumes his identity in order to flush out the person behind the gentrification scheme, Generic Shady Businesswoman (a completely wasted Ellen Barkin), whom he then sets up thanks to the magic shoes. Max does all this because the lady leading the neighborhood resistance is pretty—there is no greater motivation. And then he learns that the father that abandoned him as a child was there all along and his family is involved in a secret war with dry cleaners and I could not make this up if I tried.
Despite its high concept, The Cobbler has no ambition nor does it make any kind of point about individuality or economic oppression or understanding. Which is actually surprising because it was co-written and directed by Thomas McCarthy, who made The Station Agent, The Visitor, and Win Win, all of which are excellent, thoughtful films featuring real, complex characters. The Cobbler is the exact opposite of that. It’s a bad movie that refuses to think and stars caricatures of what Adam Sandler thinks real people are like. The ludicrous ending in particular feels like wish fulfillment for Sandler, like he hijacked what McCarthy meant to be a story about empathy and turned it into his version of The Green Hornet. That’s not a movie anyone wants to see.
The Cobbler is available on demand, or you can watch Gary The Goat videos for free on Youtube.