On the surface, the role of Howard Ratner in “Uncut Gems” may seem like a major departure for Adam Sandler. The man behind such goofy comedies as “Happy Gilmore”, “Grown Ups” and… “Jack and Jill” (!)… is in a dark, twisted, high-stakes A24 indie.
But in a lot of ways, “Uncut Gems” is not dissimilar to a lot of Sandler’s other films. And after seeing it, I understand why it’s been submitted in the Comedy category for this year’s Golden Globes. And that’s because Ratner’s life is a tragic comedy. He’s a rude, crude Jewish NYC jewelry store owner, avid sports fan and compulsive gambler. Every day is a challenge to see how he can get ahead and who he can screw-over in the process.
Ratner’s also having an affair with a young employee who lives at his Midtown apartment, away from wife Dinah (Idina Menzel) and their three kids. Dinah screams at him to say goodnight to his son, but Ratner cares more about the basketball game on TV, on which he’s bet a bundle. And at various points in the film, he gets slapped across the face, punched in the nose, jabbed in the throat, thrown into a fountain and shoved into the trunk of his car — naked (during his daughter’s school play).
This guy is in deep in every facet of his life. And he continues to look for that one big score that will make everything right.
Sandler goes all in, giving the most off-the-wall performance of his career. But it’s not as much of a stretch for the comedian as you might think. His natural style fits the manic vibe of “Uncut Gems”. Co-writers/directors Benny and Josh Safdie put all their faith into The Sandman to keep the frantic intensity level high — and he doesn’t let them down.
But while some aspects of Ratner’s world are authentic, others are ridiculous and laughable. “Uncut Gems” is a challenging movie to take seriously. Instead, it comes-off as a heightened fable. The family scenes don’t sparkle. There are more shouting matches than actual exchanges of dialogue (this movie may break the F-bomb record currently held by 2013’s “The Wolf of Wall Street”). And even though Ratner can’t see things coming, we very much do.
Former NBA player Kevin Garnett has a sizable role — as himself. The Weeknd sings — as himself. NY sports radio host Mike Francesca appears in a few scenes as Ratner’s bookie. And there’s a cameo that will have you remembering the “Good Times”. But there’s no such luck for Ratner — or us — as his story spirals downward to a surprising, yet predictable ending.
Even with its high concept, edge and showy central performance, “Uncut Gems” is not a diamond in the rough. It’s just rough.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Uncut Gems” gets a C.
‘Uncut Gems’ opens in select theaters on December 13th and expands nationwide on Christmas Day. Running Time: 135 min.