starring Adam Sandler, Cliff ‘Method Man’ Smith, Ellen Barkin, Melonie Diaz, Dan Stevens, Fritz Weaver, Yul Vasquez, Steve Buscemi and Dustin Hoffman
written by Tom McCarthy and Paul Sado
directed by Tom McCarthy
Adam Sandler is variously very funny and very stupid and annoying. There is always a risk with a Sandler movie. But I was happy with The Cobbler.
The movie has the ambiance of a rabbinic morality tale. Max Simkin (Sandler) is a cobbler. He can make shoes, or he can repair them. Mostly he repairs them. He’s a common tradesman envying people he imagines are more successful in life than he is. By comparison, his barber neighbor, Jimmy (Steve Buscemi), is a refreshingly upbeat guy. Max inherited his trade from his father, who inherited from his father, and so on. There is a certain drudgery to it that leads Jimmy to a sour disposition regarding his life and work. Max’s father ran away, abandoned his family, and left Max to run the business and take care of his aging mother, catalyzing Max’s negative disposition.
It is a privilege to walk in another man’s shoes, but it’s also a responsibility.
The film opens with a flashback to 1904 New York to give some of the back story to the Simkin cobbler business, because there is something very special that Max doesn’t know, but he learns in the course of events. It all revolves around an antique, foot-powered stitcher used by his great-grandfather in the original shop. It’s a magic stitcher that allows the cobbler to assume the physical identity of the shoes’ owner whenever he stitches new soles onto them with the machine. Max lives his life and runs his business in total ignorance of this until one day his electric stitcher breaks down and he searches out the old antique one in the basement, covered with a tarp and shoved in a corner, forgotten and ignored. Max uses the machine to finish a job for a demanding customer. When the customer fails to return Max slips the shoes on just as a diversion and practically goes mad when he sees himself in the mirror as another man. He gets over the shock, realizes the contribution of the old stitcher, and sets about re-soling shoes and then trying them on to test the veracity of the original experience. He realizes he can masquerade as anyone - anyone at all. Masquerading as others, though, gives a whole new meaning to the shop’s slogan “New soles 15 minutes.” The danger of masquerading as another is immediately apparent. You might fantasize about living as another - people you imagine are more fortunate, better looking, more talented, more influential than you - but once you start walking in another man’s/woman’s shoes you begin to realize how bad their lives secretly are and how good your own life really is. You want to be Steve Jobs? That means you’d be a hateful bastard with cancer.