Adam Sandler turns in a pleasantly understated performance as Max Simkin, a Lower East Side shoe repairman who discovers that an heirloom stitching machine has magical properties in Tom McCarthy’s film The Cobbler. Put on any customer’s two shoes and Max takes on that person’s appearance, allowing him to indulge such entertaining caprices as sneaking into a black thug’s gun-and-bling-filled apartment or walking into a beautiful stranger’s bathroom. Max eventually takes his place as a “guardian of souls” in addition to his work as a mender of soles.
While funny, The Cobbler is a film which, like Punch Drunk Love (2002), allows Sandler to show off his non-idiot side and is welcome as a change of pace. Steve Buscemi and Dustin Hoffman appear in supporting roles as, respectively, Max’s barber neighbor and mysteriously absent father. Viewers may see the surprise ending coming, but so much of The Cobbler is entertainingly unexpected that any conformity to audience expectations is handily offset.
4 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Cobbler is:
6. Obesity-tolerant. “I’m not fat. I’m big-boned.”
5. Pro-gay and pro-miscegenation. Simkin’s eventual love interest is peppery Carmen (Melonie Diaz). An Asian woman (Greta Lee) flirts with Simkin in a bar after he has unwittingly taken on the form of a bisexual man (Dan Stevens). “I think it’s hot,” she reassures him. Sandler also dons high heels to occasionally assume the appearance of a gauche Latin transvestite (Yul Vazquez).
4. Family-ambivalent. Simkin is deeply devoted to his mother (Lynn Cohen), who was abandoned by his father (Dustin Hoffman). The latter turns out to have responded to a higher calling. Asked if she ever wanted to be somebody else, Mrs. Simkin replies, “I’m your mother. That’s all I ever wanted to be.” Carmen seemingly discounts the necessity of fathers, however, when she says, “My dad split when I was 12. Life goes on.”
3. Localist and populist. Carmen works for the Lower East Side Action Committee, committed to halting the area’s gentrification, and attempts to get Simkin to support the cause. “I’m glad that you’re supporting a local business,” she tells him when she sees him with a box of pickles.
2. Racist! The Cobbler’s only important black character is a career criminal, a murderer and abuser of women, played by rapper Cliff “Method Man” Smith. “You Jewish?” this black bigot interrogates Simkin. “Lucky you.” He then insensitively asks if his recently deceased mother left him any money. In another scene, the fiend creates a Michael Brown-style ruckus in a convenience store.
1. Borderline anti-Semitic. Surprisingly, The Cobbler offers an unsavory portrait of a Hebraic slumlord and gangster in tough-as-nails “Jew from Queens” Elaine Greenawalt (Ellen Barkin). The film compensates for this cinematic blood libel by providing typical wailing violin movie portrayals of weak, long-suffering Jews like Simkin, who gives submissive shoeshines to arrogant blacks. Ratcheting up The Cobbler’s Jewish victimhood factor is Fritz Weaver from the 1978 Holocaust miniseries, who appears as Mr. Solomon, the helpless old man Greenawalt hopes to evict by any dastardly means necessary.