Adam Sandler does magical realism.
No, that's not a joke, that's the basic premise of The Cobbler.
The only funny thing here, though, is that it actually works. I noticed that this movie got savaged by critics, but audiences seemed to adore it. It was some of the starkest polarization I'd seen over a movie in a long time. I was worried that Sandler fans (you know, people who actually thought Jack and Jill was a good movie... yes, they exist,) just bombed the reviews. But then I actually watched it, and by all accounts, I found a movie that typical Sandler diehards would hate. Why? Because The Cobbler is, in reality, a very thoughtful, meditative movie about trying to find a happy medium between your current life and your dream one.
Seriously. I'm not kidding.
Sandler and "thoughtful" might not mentally go hand-in-hand at first, but think about some of the roles the actor has taken over the years. He was the awkward, affable lead in Punch Drunk Love, a tragic comedian in Funny People, and an emotionally damaged musician in Reign Over Me. The guy has a pretty good range, even if most of his movies as of late are pretty much garbage. Don't count Cobbler among them, though. Here, we see him tone down his "I'm a living cartoon character" routine and actually turn in a performance that's almost subdued.
"Almost," I say, because the basic premise of the movie requires Sandler to be a little reactive at times. See, he plays a cobbler, or in everyday terms, a shoe repair guy. Living in an older neighborhood on the verge of corporate buyout and taking care of his dying mother, his life is fairly miserable. That starts to change when he finds an old shoe repair machine that, by fixing somebody else's shoes and wearing them, allows him to transform into other people.
If this sounds like a premise for Sandler to get into wacky shenanigans, that's because we're conditioned to believe that's all he's capable of these days. And, I'll be honest, I thought that's where this was heading too. In reality, it takes a turn into some dark, treacherous territory that I didn't see coming. Murder happens. The effects of gentrification are touched upon. Dustin Hoffman shows up. All-in-all, it's just a really strange trip that takes bizarre turn after bizarre turn, until the ending, which is one of the most out-of-the-blue and, dare I say it, smartest endings I've seen in a minute.
Now if you were to ask me if The Cobbler is Oscar-bait or anything, I'd first ask why you think I care about the Oscars (considering how abysmal Birdman was and how nobody could shut up about it,) and I'd then say "no." It's too original, and honestly, it's a bit too out there. That's evidenced by the negative critic reviews, most of which center around it not being a good Sandler movie. Which is true. It's not. It's an awful Sandler movie. But, really, I don't think it was trying to be a Sandler movie to begin with. I think it was just trying to be a movie that happened to have Adam Sandler in the lead, which works for the part.
The Cobbler isn't necessarily perfect. It has some pacing issues. I didn't care for its questionable depictions of African-Americans and (in one instance) transgender people. But I will say this: it kept me thinking after the credits had rolled, and most movies don't do that anymore. And what's more, I plan on watching it one or two more times, because I think there's stuff I may have missed. And that would require buying it, probably on a discount.
So, yeah. I'm not sure The Cobbler is a great film, and your mileage may vary. But, for my purposes, it was a surprisingly sentimental and thoughtful journey, and one that I'd recommend most people at least try taking.