Last year on the Norm MacDonald podcast, Adam Sandler made an offhand remark about why he won’t host SNL that weirdly changed my perception of him:
“Why should I?” Sandler said. “How good would it would be? I’m slow now … There are guys who love doing it, who are great at doing it. I just don’t know how good I’d be doing it.”
That little bit of self recognition — along with the self-mockery in both the SNL 40th Anniversary special and in the Night of Too Many Stars segment with Bob Barker — gave me a completely different perception of Sandler: He thinks he’s as washed-up as everyone else does. There’s something profoundly sad about that, and his mopey, half-hearted duet with Drew Barrymore in support of Blended only makes it sadder still.
It’s one thing to see an actor you like make one terrible movie after another, but it’s quite another when you know that he knows he’s making bad movies and recognizes that he doesn’t have a choice anymore if he wants to keep working. Say what you want about Sandler’s films, but Sandler himself is a nice guy, generous, and loyal to his friends, and I almost wish that a good guy like him could remain oblivious to the realities of his own situation. I’d much rather he ignore his critics than agree with them.
The Cobbler, like Funny People and Reign Over Me and Spanglish is not so much an another attempt on Sandler’s part to be taken as a serious actor, but — I think — an honest effort to make a movie he could be proud of.
It should’ve worked, too. It comes from writer/director Tom McCarthy, who gave us three wonderful gems in Station Agents, The Visitor and Win Win and who wrote the splendid screenplay for Pixar’s Up. It would also seem like the perfect marriage of McCarthy’s predilection for sad, lonely characters whose solitary lives are upended and Adam Sandler’s high-concept gimmickry. Sandler plays a mopey, sad-sack Cobbler who discovers that he can transform into the people whose shoes he puts on. It’s literally a “let’s see what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes” concept.
Alas, despite a cast that includes Steve Buscemi, Ellen Barkin, Method Man, Dan Stevens, and even Dustin Hoffman, The Cobbler fails. Miserably. None of McCarthy’s soulful poignancy translates into the concept. It’s a shoddy Sandler movie, only it trades the yell-y BOOBITY BOO for a quiet, mumbling lethargy, and God bless him, Sandler is not a very good actor. The problems are further complicated by the outlandish plot, which involves the Cobbler body-switching with several people involved in the murdering of tenants in an apartment building that stands in the way of a huge, gentrifying real estate deal.
It’s basically Click on a low budget with a thoughtful director, an actor who doesn’t know how to translate that thoughtfulness, and a script that badly misfires. It’s a dismal movie (it currently stands at a generous 8 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), but it’s hard to be mad at Sandler about making it. It’s clearly not a paycheck role. It’s a sincere attempt by Sandler to play a different kind of character in a movie with a different kind of tone. It just doesn’t come together, and there’s nothing that any of the otherwise solid supporting players can do to salvage it. Sandler took the wrong road down the right path, and despite the best of intentions, The Cobbler fails at the concept level.