“The Cobbler,” the recently released movie directed by Tom McCarthy starring Adam Sandler as (obviously, Jewish) cobbler Max Simkin, who discovers a stitching machine with magical powers in his basement, has received dismal reviews — 7% on Rotten Tomatoes and a whopping 5.7 out of 10 rating on Internet Movie Database. Oh well, you might think, maybe that’s because it’s a bad movie. It is — but there’s more to it: It seems like the movie could appeal to a range of niche audiences, including “Downton Abbey” fans, people with Oedipal tendencies and preservation activists. Here’s who should see the Jewish-magic-crime-gentrification-family-love-action-tragicomedy.
• If you want to try exposure therapy to get rid of a phobia of athlete’s foot.
When Simkin discovers an old stitching machine in his fourth generation family run shoe store (located, obviously, on New York’s Lower East Side), it looks like it’s a pain to use, with pedals that need to be pushed for it to work, and the dim light in the basement where it’s stored. We soon find out that “no pain, no gain” holds true here: When Simkin, who is clearly not easily disgusted, decides to try on the shoes he just fixed with that machine, he suddenly looks like the customer who owns the shoes. This ends up being handy in all sorts of situations, from not paying the bill in a restaurant and pursuing a sexy neighbor to making his mother happy and fighting gangster Leon Ludlow (Method Man) and an extortionist real estate developer named Elaine Greenawalt (Ellen Barkin).
Director Tom McCarthy seems to have a thing for the theme of intrusion into personal spaces. His 2007 movie “The Visitor” tells the story of a middle-aged college professor (Richard Jenkins) who arrives at his seldom used apartment in New York City for business, only to discover a young couple (Haaz Sleiman and Danai Gurira) living there. While “The Visitor” uses this premise effectively to construct a smart, funny and sad story about immigration, friendship and loneliness, “The Cobbler” trips over its convoluted storyline, and the less than appealing concept of literally wearing other people’s shoes without disinfecting them first.
• If you’re still sad that Dan Stevens only made it through two seasons of ‘Downton Abbey.’
Simkin has an unbelievably hot neighbor, Alexia (Elena Kampuris) who happens to have a boyfriend (Dan Stevens) who beats Simkin in style and youthfulness. But the storyline god is well meaning to Simkin, as Alexia drops her boyfriend’s shoes off for an overhaul. What comes next is completely predictable, somewhat unsettling pubescent male wet dream material. It’s fun to watch a convincingly camp Dan Stevens pretending to be Adam Sandler pretending to be Dan Stevens. Overall, the performances of the other actors who impersonate Sandler’s character is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the film. It almost feels as if they are mocking Sandler’s faded glory, the restoration of which this movie most likely hasn’t contributed to.
• If you ever wondered if you had an Oedipus complex.
In one of the creepiest scenes of the movie (there are plenty), Simkin decides to make his senile mother (Lynn Cohen) happy and turns into his father (Dustin Hoffman), who abandoned his family in the distant past for unknown reasons, for one evening of dinner and dancing. Fortunately, his mother is completely satisfied with the bantering and a friendly hug, but, oh, the possibilities are disturbing.
• If you’re a Muzak producer looking for new ideas.
It’s not just the story line of the movie that’s all over the place with its multiple subplots (boxes checked: love, homosexuality, parenting, fatherhood, friendship, death, dementia, ambition, gentrification, extortion, kidnapping, justice, race and pickles — yes, pickles), but the movie also seems as if no one could agree on a genre. The score, produced by John Debney and Nick Urata, includes fairy tale-like jingling, full on orchestral enhancement of action scenes, and, perhaps most annoyingly, klezmer-esque elevator music to remind viewers to get a bagel once they’ve made it through the 99 minutes of the film.
• If you’re a stoned preservation activist.
The heroine of the movie, if that’s what you could call her, is Carmen Herrara (Melonie Diaz), a preservation activist I would probably find annoying to work with. She really likes to use the word “badass” when it’s not even remotely appropriate or funny and very unconvincingly flirts with Simkin. Her only purpose in the movie seems to be to move Simkin’s character along. Which raises the suspicion whether her character is included because the actor playing her is pretty, and the filmmakers needed a politically correct backdrop for the shoe-swapping plot, which makes ample use of racial and gender stereotypes. Just don’t think you’re going to learn anything about preservation efforts.
• If you’re a Jew flying into New York waiting for your sleeping pill kick in.
Lean back, let the Yiddish spoken in the beginning lull you, and get excited for the magic pickles (yes, pickles) that a Lower East Side barber might offer you. Briefly remember that you wanted to sign this one petition for… what was it again? As you drift off, make a mental note to do a background check on your cobbler.
Anna Goldenberg is the Forward’s arts and culture fellow.
Here's Who Should Watch 'The Cobbler'
Anna Goldenberg was the Forward’s culture fellow.