WASHINGTON — A few nights ago, I finally decided to watch Uncut Gems at the local movie house. Without a doubt, this one is a hidden 2019 movie gem. Adam Sandler declared the film worthy of an Oscar weeks before its release. In fact, Sandler, the film’s star, boasted so confidently about his film that he promised revenge if it didn’t win an Oscar. In fact, he threatened the movie-loving public, declaring he’d make the world’s worst film next if Uncut Gems didn’t win.
(UPDATE: The Oscar Nominations came out today and Uncut Gems didn’t get any nods due to its late release. So it looks like we’re going to get that long-awaited sequel to Jack and Jill.)
The only reason I call Uncut Gems a hidden movie gem is because of the circumstances surrounding its release. It premiered at the end of 2019, popping up almost a throwaway of a movie just to conclude a decade. Additionally, this film’s release was overshadowed by other big box office blockbusters like Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
Sandler’s best film in recent memory?
However, Sandler has delivered arguably his best film this century. (And feel free to hate on me, fans of the Zohan.) He turns in a stellar performance as an infinitely entertaining character co-star Lakeith Stanfield (who portrays his assistant, Demany) describes as a “crazy ass Jew.”
Sandler stars in this film as Howard Ratner, a jeweler with a serious gambling problem. We learn that Ratner must re-acquire an uncut gem he imported from Ethiopia at the beginning of the movie. But where is the gem, you ask? In the massive hands of Boston Celtics’ power forward Kevin Garnett (playing himself).
Garnett visits Ratner in between playoff games in Philly. He believes that he has a connection to the gem, possibly due to his jewel of a last name. So he insists on keeping it for a night to channel its powers for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semis. Howard, insists that it is not for sale. He intends to auction it off for a million dollars. But he agrees to go along with Garnett, taking KG’s 2008 championship ring as collateral.
A marvelous character study
The beauty of the movie lies in Sandler’s sensitive treatment of the complex character of Ratner. That portrayal develolps as the film’s the plot follows him through his difficult life in 2012 New York. Time and time again, we laugh with, and then at, Ratner. We watch as he places bets, gets beaten up by collectors, and attempts all the while to balance relationships with his current girlfriend and deal with the post-Passover divorce of his wife. All while, he carries on texting on and getting ghosted via a badly ageing iPhone 4S.
But it’s not only Sandler who shines. Under the brilliant direction of Josh and Bennie Safdie, Uncut Gems ensures that all its characters have the room to develop as well. For example, Lakeith Stanfield’s role as Howard’s main employee and personal assistant Demany is another standout performance. Ditto for Julia Fox, who who turns in a strong performance as Ratner’s girlfriend — also Julia — in this, her film debut.
But that’s not all. Idina Menzel, Judd Hirsch, and Garnett all thrive in their small, eminently believable roles. In fact, the entire cast is into this film. They consistently appear to possess tremendous interpersonal chemistry throughout. An added plus: Mike Francesca and Canadian singer, songwriter and actor The Weeknd appear in several brief scenes offering notably entertaining performances.
Uncut Gems comes highly recommended
I highly reccomend Uncut Gems. More than many recent films, it pulsates with strong performances, interesting plot concepts, and rowdy, out-of-control humor. As when we watch Sandler texting his girlfriend from a closet, and later calling his wife from the trunk of his car, naked and screaming for help.
Almost the entire movie is as funny as hell. That’s mainly due to the engaging and erratic personalities the directors allow to unfold organically from the film’s characters, all of whom mesh exceedingly well in key scenes. Such as when Sandler is texting his girlfriend from a closet and calling his wife from the trunk of his car, naked and screaming for help.
I reccomend Uncut Gems to anyone who remains a fan of the Adam Sandler of old. You know, the goofy manchild who gave us cult classics such as Billy Madison and Big Daddy. You actually won’t see that Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems. But this grizzled, contemporary Sandler, complete with his authentically nasal Howard Ratner New York accent, will make moviegoers laugh. As much as Billy and Sonny once did.
One warning note: The film’s abrupt and unexpected ending may catch you off guard. However, in the strange, frantic and often desperate Uncut Gems universe, it all makes perfect sense. Uncut Gems could have concluded no other way.
— Headline image: From left to right: Kevin Garnett, Lakeith Stanfield, and Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems.
Screen capture from official trailer.