A minor darling of American independent cinema, acclaimed filmmaker Thomas McCarthy returns with his unique and quirky brand of Americana with ‘The Cobbler’. Something akin to a modern Jewish fable, it features a welcome return for Adam Sandler to more dramatic, meaty material as well as a magical kind of whimsy. But even with the talent backing up this film, does its earnestness and irreverence translate to something satisfying or stilted?
Sandler is Max Simpkin, a cobbler living with his elderly mother Sarah (Lynn Cohen). He runs the same cobbler shop his father worked in before his father ran out on his family, and tied down to the business, Max leads a simple and lonely life. When his equipment breaks down, he’s forced to use his father’s old re-souling machine, only to discover it has unexpected powers – any shoe he mends on it allows him to transform into the owner. Max can look like them and sound like them, as long as he wears the shoes. Intoxicated by this strange power, Max begins to use it to his advantage, before he begins to see how it can benefit others in his community and family.
It’s a cracking premise, a lovely dose of magic realism, and for the first act it all seems to land beautifully. Sandler is a great match for McCarthy and co-writer Paul Sado’s tone, a little melancholy and very playful. McCarthy follows suit, and there’s a real joy watching Max test the boundaries of his new talent. It’s great watching the succession of actors step into Sandler’s shoes, especially when you have no idea who will appear next.
However, much like Max, the film quickly runs out of ideas of what to do with the central premise. The mini-adventures soon begin to mount up, and a clear narrative becomes lost in repetitive situational comedy. All the good work in the opening act begins to unravel as the film spirals out of control, losing focus and lacking any clear goal. Rather than finding an honest purpose for his powers, Max gets caught up with gangster Leon (Cliff ‘Method Man’ Smith), which is entertaining enough but feels a tad disingenuous to the tone of the film. Sandler is consistently charming, and he’s backed up by a supporting cast that includes Steve Buscemi, Melonie Diaz, Ellen Barkin, Dan Stevens and Dustin Hoffman, but the half-baked screenplay never takes any advantage of this impressive cast. When the film finally finds redemption for Max and purpose for his power, it’s way too late to be on his or the film’s side, and the climax of the film is such a disruptive change of tone that it ends up crashing rather than soaring.
The film quickly runs out of ideas of what to do with the central premise.
Maybe the biggest problem with ‘The Cobbler’ is that it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be or what it has to say. The central premise has a lot of promise, enough that the synopsis had be interested from the start, and all the pieces suggest that this should at least be a charming little film to warm your heart and soul. The result however is half-baked and inconsequential, a sadly missed opportunity to come up with what should have been a gem rather than a pebble.
PICTURE & SOUND
‘The Cobbler’ gets a lovely 1080p 1.85:1 transfer, which shows off the saturated autumnal palette of the film. Detail is sharp and crisp throughout, and the colours (mostly greens, browns and yellows) come out beautifully in high definition. The understated DTS-HD MA 5.1 track also does a terrific job. ‘The Cobbler’ is quite subtle in its sound design, and the well-balanced and unobtrusive track replicates this.
As is common with Transmission’s releases, there are no features included on this disc.