Film Review – Uncut Gems
Taking a breather from both his multi-million dollar Netflix deal and basketball shorts, Adam Sandler again reminds us how good he can be outside of his Happy Madison orbit as Howard Ratner, a charmingly idiotic gambler and star of the Safdie Brothers’ Good Time follow-up, Uncut Gems.
Centered around New York City’s Diamond District in 2012, Uncut Gems invites us to spend a meticulously chaotic day with Howard as the world around him spins violently out of control. Somehow we get the feeling this isn’t his first rodeo.
Howard owes money all over town, and the loan chickens are coming home to roost. On the plus side, he’s just gotten his hands on an uncut opal he thinks is worth a million dollars at auction, the discovery of which opens the film in a harrowing scene set during an Ethiopian mining expedition. However, frequent customer and NBA star Kevin Garnett (gamely playing himself) takes a liking to the opal and convinces Howard to let him borrow it in exchange for his championship ring, convinced the opal will bring him the luck needed to win that night’s game.
Howard’s gonna Howard, though, and promptly pawns the ring for cash to put on said game. This is just the first of many, many stupid decisions he makes throughout the course of the film and it is very much to Sandler’s credit that we find ourselves rooting for him regardless.
Directors Benny and Josh Safdie love exploring this sort of seedy underbelly, as anyone who has seen their remarkable Good Time can surely attest to. From its opening moments, Uncut Gems bombards us with their one-of-a-kind style. The relentlessly booming score, the overlapping dialogue. We’re in Safdie country now, baybeee…
The eclectic supporting cast is also a sight to behold. Idina Menzel kills it as Howard’s put-upon wife Dinah, who sees through his BS with the prowess of a superhero. (Her perfect delivery of the line “I think you are the most annoying person on the planet.” brought the house down at the screening I attended.)
Newcomer Julia Fox stuns as Howard’s employee and mistress, and it’s not hard to foresee one hell of a career there. The Sadfies wisely side-step any sort of shrewish, predictable caricatures and instead give real insight and motivation to each supporting role.
The movie bravely hinges on Sandler’s performance and I’m inclined to say it’s the best of his career. Like Paul Thomas Anderson before them in Punch-Drunk Love, the Safdies seem to see something we all see in Adam Sandler and then turn it on its head. For PTA it was his quickness to anger, and here it’s his brashness coupled with his innate charisma.
Uncut Gems is a fine example of counter-programming as well. A Christmas Day release for something this delightfully scummy is pretty hilarious, and offers sweet, sweet respite for those in want of something outside of intergalactic warfare and CGI kitty-human hybrids.
Believe the hype, Gems shines!