The Cobbler, a new Adam Sandler film, is a must-see movie, but not because it's any good. It's unusual that a movie this well-meaning is also a movie this horrifically bad. The Cobbler is the rare movie so terrible that it's hard to figure out why it even exists, why somebody didn't run in front of the speeding train of its production yelling, "Stop!"
Yet here it is — a tiny independent movie, set in the present day, about a Lower East Side cobbler named Max (Sandler) who discovers a magic shoe stitcher that lets him step into the shoes (literally) of the other people around him. It's a movie that wants to say something serious about the American melting pot and the need for urban communities — but it's also a movie in which Sandler's character disguises himself as a black man to rob a rich guy while zany klezmer music plays.
This is an epic mess, one that will leave you scratching your head endlessly after seeing it. And it's on video on-demand, including at Amazon, so you can watch from the comfort of your couch.
Here are five completely insane things you will see if you do.
1) Sandler's character disguises himself as his presumed dead father to give his mother one last date night
The chief problem with The Cobbler is that it wants to be sweet but mostly comes off as completely unaware of how bonkers it really is.
This sequence features a lovely date night between Max's mother and his father (Dustin Hoffman), who split town years ago. But as the audience knows, Max is wearing his father's shoes and thus looks and speaks exactly like his dad would have. Director Thomas McCarthy shoots the whole thing as this beautiful evening straight out of Lady and the Tramp, but the implications of the whole thing are utterly creepy, in a way that defeats everything the scene is trying to accomplish.
Yes, Max's mother is in ill health, and her mental state isn't the best. Yes, she'll probably only remember this as a faint memory in the weeks to come. But it's still super weird.
2) The movie's attitudes about race and class and gender and trans issues and other stuff are ... really uncomfortable
One of the people whose life Max spends the most time stepping into is Ludlow (Cliff "Method Man" Smith), a black guy whose life Max uses mostly for various criminal pursuits. (It certainly helps that Ludlow is a criminal himself.) The low point of this particular sequence is when Max robs a rich man while disguised as Ludlow, as wacky music plays.
But that's not the only one. The film has all kinds of weird scenes in which Max takes on the life of somebody of a different race — or, in several sequences, a trans woman — then immediately falls into the easiest stereotypes of how he thinks they'd act.
Since this movie is intended to be about the melting pot, about how America makes everybody better by making us all rub elbows with one another, there are elements of this that are forgivable, but it's still mostly baffling and bad pretty much every time it happens.
3) This movie was made by Thomas McCarthy, who's generally a really good director of indie comedies
When you hear Adam Sandler is starring in a movie where a magic shoe machine lets him become other people, you don't bat an eye. That sounds like the premise of one of his big-budget comedies aimed at the family audience.
But what's weird about this is that Sandler is easily the best element of this film. His performance isn't great or anything, but he's clearly at ease in this magical realism milieu.
No, the person who's out of his element here is McCarthy, who's previously directed bittersweet films like The Station Agent, The Visitor, and Win Win. These were movies that told tiny, realistic stories about American life, stories laced with a keenly observational eye and some sharp comedy. They weren't ... whatever this is. McCarthy seems out of his element throughout, even if the sheer weirdness of the fact that he, of all people, directed this carries the movie a bit.
(And go read this interview with McCarthy and much of the cast via Shockya.com, which features much discussion of custom-made shoes and McCarthy explaining that Sandler doesn't spend significant time as a woman because the shoes he wears need to be a men's size 10 and a half.)
4) Max ends up as kind of a Jewish folktale-y Batman
I don't want to spoil the ending too much — because you're going to run to your nearest VOD provider and watch this, right? — but it's somehow so incompetent that the movie breaks through the floor of the basement it was already in to plummet to new depths of inanity.
With the ending, the movie is clearly setting itself up for a sequel (which will never come, since the film only made $24,000 in its opening weekend), one in which Max and his trusty assistants take on crime and the criminals who perpetrate it — and also the evil forces of gentrification.
Because, yes, the main bad guy in this is gentrification.
5) The best way to keep up your strength when turning into lots of different people is to ... eat pickles
This is literally a thing that happens in this movie.
The Cobbler is in theaters and on VOD, including Amazon and iTunes.