I’ve had a long think about it today, and I honestly think that Mr. Deeds might be the only Adam Sandler film that I have ever seen the whole way through. And let’s be honest, I only watched that for Winona Ryder. I’m well aware that Sandler is a legend of sorts, but not one cell of my being has ever been interested in seeing the likes of Blended, Grownups, Click and the rest. Of course, in a very Steve Carrell fashion, another, more dramatic side to Sandler’s career has emerged in somewhat recent times, and to give myself a 1:1 on the guy’s comedy/drama filmography, I decided to give Uncut Gems a try.
Set in 2012 New York City, the film tells the story of Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), a Diamond District jewellery store owner and serious gambling addict whose life becomes infinitely more complicated after he procures a rare and valuable uncut black opal from Ethiopia. Struggling with massive debts and with the threat of real trouble at every turn, Howard’s life descends into a series of bad decisions that go from worse to worse, and the narrative follows the character on a seemingly downward spiral of debt and deception.
Here’s the thing about Uncut Gems; it is a prime example of a film that is objectively very good indeed, but also a film that I have absolutely no desire to ever see again. The movie is a million mile a minute whirlwind of the life and mind of a man very much living on the edge, and the sheer levels of anxiety and stress that exude from the narrative from scene to scene make it an incredibly frustrating, uncomfortable and at times claustrophobic viewing experience. This isn’t helped by the fact that arguably not a single character within the story is anything close to resembling likeable.
It sounds weird to say it, but I mean all of these things in the most praise giving way possible, because the emotions I felt are most certainly the emotions intended by the filmmakers. I can absolutely imagine that whilst this film might cause adrenaline to surge in the veins of some viewers, it had rather the opposite effect on me. I finished Uncut Gems in an absolutely exhausted state. More f-bombs are dropped than I can remember in any film for the last five years, the two plus hour, running time is filled with mostly shouting, screaming and fighting, and the downward spiral of the narrative is one that you can see coming from a mile away. This type of tension might get the blood pumping for some, but it’s totally draining for me!
Emphasising the excellent but exhausting quality of the film are a handful of really brilliant performances. In a more dramatic setting, Adam Sandler looks totally at home. Howard Ratner is a character that will frustrate the living shit out of you, but there is something in Sandler’s turn that still makes him watchable despite the onslaught of terrible on screen decisions and actions. I can quite confidently state that his work here is a *touch* more impressive than in Mr. Deeds. Great job, Adam!
The film boasts a very on trend supporting cast including the likes of Idina Menzel and Lakeith Stanfield. Stanfield in particular plays a frustratingly obtuse business associate of Howard’s, his own lackadaisical approach to business promises adding greatly to the tense feelings of frustration that the film so expertly produces from start to finish.
NBA star Kevin Garnett plays himself in a larger role than the usual sports star cameo, more than holding his own with some of the current best in the business. Michael Jordan in Space Jam, LeBron James in Trainwreck, Kevin here in Uncut Gems. These basketball players have carved out an interesting niche for themselves in the world of cinema!
Overall, I have to be fair and say that by any measure, Uncut Gems feels like a technically impressive and undeniably bold movie, but it’s intense, mentally exhausting approach to a neurotic and incredibly fast paced story makes for bewildering viewing. Ironically, it feels very much like the kind of film that will reward repeat viewings, revealing more nuance within the tension on a second and third watch. If you’re brave enough to do so, then god speed, but I’m not ashamed to admit that I simply don’t have the energy! Another winner for A24, though perhaps more polarising than some of the studio’s more mainstream hits. I don’t always love their offerings, but I always recognise the diversity and variety in their choices.