Home Video Hovel- The Cobbler, by Tyler Smith
It’s appropriate that Tom McCarthy’s latest film is about a cobbler, because the film itself seems cobbled together from several different movies of different genres and tones. The result is a film that starts out pleasant enough, but soon flies off the rails as McCarthy attempts to take a nice little magical realism story and turn it into some kind of superhero origin. It’s sort of like Unbreakable combined with Kingsman, but with virtually no visual style and very little to keep us invested.
The story is about Max, a meek cobbler in New York (played capably by Adam Sandler), who soon discovers that he has a magical stitcher sitting in his cellar that allows him to physically become anybody whose shoes he is wearing. For a nebbishy guy like Max, the possibility of being somebody else is very exciting. So he uses this ability to become the various customers that frequent his shop. One moment, he is an old man, the next a handsome DJ.
At one point, he even becomes his father, who abruptly disappeared years before. Max’s mother yearns to have just one more meal with her lost love. Max obliges, which makes for a scene that is at once touching and a little creepy. The weirdness of your own mother looking at you as an object of romance is something that doesn’t seem to occur to the film, and it continues with the scene in earnest.
In fact, more than anything, that’s how The Cobbler can be summed up: it’s earnest. There is a sweetness and sincerity that won me over in the first act of the film. Sandler’s performance- as a man with a lot to say but no confidence with which to say it- goes a long way in eliciting sympathy from the audience. This is a man whose life- taking care of his mother, looking after the shop- was forced upon him the moment his father left. He never really chose this life, but is living it anyway. Sandler, who can often come across and cocky and smug on screen, shows us a man so beaten down by life he can hardly make eye contact with his customers.
However, once the “superhero” part of the story kicks in, the character gains some much-needed confidence, which would be a lot more engaging if the feeling of the film was anything but bland. But, as the intrigue starts, the film loses any connection with reality that it once had. There’s a nefarious conspiracy, gunplay, and constant threats, which are all played for laughs. This drains the film of any investment we may have in the story and characters, as the director himself never quite knows what tone he’s trying to strike.
In many ways, The Cobbler is a throwback, first to the pleasant, sincere films of directors like Frank Capra, then to the generic, forgettable action-comedies of the 1990s. I’m sure it is possible to mix these together and come up with a satisfying film, but Tom McCarthy- a filmmaker whose works I’ve genuinely loved in the past- seems in over his head as he struggles to create a coherent story in the midst of a film that probably never should have been attempted in the first place.