“The Cobbler”, in theaters now, tells the story of a magical shoe-stitching machine that upends the life of a downtrodden cobbler named Max Simkin (Adam Sandler). Written and directed by Thomas McCarthy (“The Station Agent”), it features a strong cast, including Steve Buscemi, Dustin Hoffman, Ellen Barkin, Method Man, and Dan Stevens. Max works in the same shoe repair shop in New York City that his family has owned for generations, and he takes care of his dementia-suffering mother (Lynn Cohen) alone, because his father disappeared years ago. Barber Jimmy (Buscemi) is his only friend, and he is awkward and tongue-tied when Carmen (Melonie Diaz) approaches him about a campaign to save the neighborhood from a corporate takeover – by Elaine Greenawalt (Barkin, who looks fabulous).
When he gets a rush repair job from the intimidating Leon (Method Man), and his stitching machine breaks down, Max digs out his father’s old machine, a family heirloom. Later on, in a bored moment, he tries on Leon’s shoes, and suddenly Leon is staring back at him in the mirror. The shoes he repairs on the old machine transform him into a replica of their owners, complete with the appropriate voice, and so he ransacks the shelves in the shop, stitching them first and then trying them all on.
In most stories where a character gains some kind of power, the fun comes from watching them abuse it, and so it is with Max as he suddenly realizes he can be whomever he wants to be – even if they’re dead – as long as they wear a size 10 1/2. It is a stroke of genius on writer McCarthy’s part, that if the shoe owner is dead and decomposing, Max looks like that too. On a side note, I think the story should’ve also put Max in the shoes of a tall woman, but the closest he gets is a pair of high heels belonging to a transvestite. He begins to carry around a gym bag containing several shoes, and has adventures that run the gamut from posing as his missing dad (Hoffman), and gazing at Carmen at work as a young boy (with big feet), to posing as Leon to steal the shoes of a wealthy man just so he can drive his sports car. He also tries going out for a drink as his handsome neighbor (Stevens), only to be reminded that compromising positions usually require the removal of shoes.
Max takes thing too far, of course, when he figures out that Leon is actually a criminal, and decides to retrieve some money Leon is supposed to collect, only to find that he’s been hired to “take care” of someone who refuses to sell his apartment to Greenawalt. It doesn’t take him long to make a mess of things, with lots of funny shoe-switching moments. Method Man does a good job of acting mild-mannered and confused as the false Leon, and entertaining hijinks ensue.
It struck me much later, after the movie ended, that there was never quite a lesson learned about “walking in another man’s shoes,” which the opening scene does hint at. That’s actually kind of refreshing, however, since it probably would’ve been heavy-handed and clashed with some of the oddball twists, especially the nutty secret Max learns about his family in the end.
Image via IMDB