Adam Sandler works and works, making one movie a year when he isn’t making three. Quantity sure isn’t quality, though the diamonds sparkle. Take Uncut Gems, a vibrantly madcap dark comedy. As jeweler Howard Ratner, Sandler rocks shiny earrings and shinier glasses, plus gleaming teeth and circular facial hair. He looks like a midlife crisis, and the overkill extends to his constant salesman chatter.
Howard owes money all over New York. At least one debt could turn fatal. Salvation rests in an Ethiopian opal, which arrives in his Diamond District shop the same moment as the NBA’s Kevin Garnett (charmingly playing himself). Howard thinks he can score big off the rock and the baller, but the spiraling story line carries him from bad to worse. His wife (Idina Menzel) wants him out. His girlfriend (Julia Fox) just went into the bathroom with the Weeknd. To cover all the losses he can’t afford, he keeps betting cash he doesn’t have. The first time we see Howard, he’s mid-colonoscopy. That’s as comfortable as he’ll ever get.
The directors are Josh and Benny Safdie, the thrilling filmmakers behind 2017’s insidiously fun Good Time. Uncut Gems is a visible Hollywoodification of the earlier film’s druggy-tense kineticism. It’s overstuffed with ace cast members like Menzel and Lakeith Stanfield, who don’t have enough to do. And where Good Time zigzagged all over the city with maniacally sleepless energy, Uncut Gems eventually leans into the format of a faintly neo-religious fable. Howard joins his family for a standout sequence at Passover seder, and there’s a plagues-of-Egypt quality to how his problems keep piling up.
Howard is a Sandlerian type: raging, crying, punching a celebrity. But Sandler is revelatory in the role. He exudes the self-lacerating melancholy familiar from his acclaimed dramatic work in Punch-Drunk Love and The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected). He’s also indulging all his go-big comedic instincts, somehow, letting you see how Howard’s huckster gladhanding is a shield against certain doom. Sandler’s never been better, really, balancing speedwalking desperation and fast-talking salesmanship with sorrow and glee. What’s the word for a performance that’s loud and meaningful, hyperbolic yet terribly human? That’s Sandler in Uncut Gems: He’s opera, man. A-
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