Adam Sandler is Unbound in the Almost Unbearably Intense ‘Uncut Gems’

2 Comments

CREDIT: A24

Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin Garnett, Julia Fox, Lakeith Stanfield, Idina Menzel, Eric Bogosian, Abel Tesfaye, Judd Hirsch, Mike Francesa

Director: Ben and Josh Safdie

Running Time: 134 Minutes

Rating: R for Shouted Overlapping Profanity, the Violence of High-Stakes Gambling, and a Few Sexy Times

Release Date: December 13, 2019 (Limited)

I know some people who don’t love sports but are able to appreciate athletics when it’s in a movie because you really get to see the emotions and stories behind the games. That has perhaps never been more viscerally true than it is in the climax of Uncut Gems, which hinges on a specific stat line in the deciding game in the 2012 NBA Eastern Conference semifinals between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers. There are millions of dollars at stake in high-profile events like these, and writing-directing brother Josh and Benny Safdie were astute enough to realize that they could craft a particularly gripping narrative out of one story behind those millions. To wit: New York City diamond district jeweler Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) has placed a bet on the performance of Boston’s star baller Kevin Garnett, and it is no exaggeration to say that it is probably the most significant bet he has ever placed in his life.

The thrill of Sandler working with auteurist directors is that they don’t ask him to change his persona. Rather, they push him to be the most fascinating version of himself. As is the case with Barry Egan in Punch-Drunk Love or Danny Meyerowitz in The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), Howard fits squarely within the classic Sandler mold. He’s an unapologetically shouty, emotionally sloppy man-child, but with a dash more (or rather, a hundred dashes more) of recklessness than usual. He’s got hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt all around town, particularly with his brother-in-law (Eric Bogosian), who’s hired a couple of heavies to hound him. But he’s recently come into possession of an extremely valuable precious stone from Ethiopia that could be worth millions. His mixture of predicament and great fortune leads him to broker a potential deal with a precious metal-hungry Garnett, while also dealing with a malfunctioning door buzzer, getting locked while naked in his car trunk, and a wife (Idina Menzel) who can barely stand him. He does also have a much younger girlfriend (Julia Fox) who’s crazy about him, but not in a way that’s particularly healthy for either of them. Anyway, even with all that boiling in the stew, Howard actually has a few opportunities to clear his debt, but he just can’t help himself as he keeps doubling down and going for an even bigger score.

Uncut Gems is a natural companion piece with the Safdies’ last film, 2017’s Good Time, which starred Robert Pattinson and Ben Safdie as a couple of low-level bank-robbing brothers. Uncut Gems matches Good Time for claustrophobia and raises the stakes in terms of catastrophic decision-making, but it allows for the possibility of hope that a happy ending is somehow possible. A lot of that is thanks to Sandler, who when he is actually invested in a performance is so immensely likeable (and is still fairly likeable even when he’s being lazy). It’s not hard to root for Howard. That of course leads to the question, should we really be rooting for him? If all his high-risk decisions work out (and logic dictates that they certainly can), then he’ll never learn to live more reasonably. But at a certain point, with the whirlwind that his life causes everyone around him, I just want it to end. If it all goes wrong for Howard, it also goes wrong for so many people who don’t deserve it. There a few possibilities for how this can all end, all of which are guaranteed to leave you with a ton of adrenaline pumping.

Uncut Gems is Recommended If You Like: Good Time, the NBA playoffs, Colonoscopies set to synth music

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 African Jews

This Is a Movie Review: Noah Baumbach and Adam Sandler’s Sensibilities Align Perfectly in ‘The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)’

1 Comment

CREDIT: Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix

This review was originally posted on News Cult in October 2017.

Starring: Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Elizabeth Marvel, Emma Thompson, Grace van Patten, Judd Hirsch

Director: Noah Baumbach

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: Unrated, But It Would Probably Be (a Soft) R for Intrafamily Yelling and Artistic Nudity

Release Date: October 13, 2017 (Limited Theatrically and Streaming on Netflix)

It’s tempting to say that The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is Noah Baumbach’s version of an Adam Sandler comedy. That’s a good starting point, though it isn’t exactly right. It is most accurate to say that Baumbach happened to write a character that just happened to perfectly align with Sandler’s sensibilities. The same can also be said to a certain degree for Dustin Hoffman and Ben Stiller, two of the other Meyerowitzes with distinct styles, but it is Sandler’s shtick that leaves the most telling impression. This film could hardly be mistaken for a Happy Madison production, but it is a sort of cinematic half-sibling.

Hoffman is Harold Meyerowitz, a sculptor and retired art professor whose lack of greater commercial success is constantly referenced and bemoaned. His adult children Danny (Sandler), Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), and Matthew (Stiller) are all sorts of messed up. Danny and Jean are still recovering from all the time they didn’t have with their dad while growing up after he divorced their mother, while their half-sibling Matthew is still recovering from all the time that he did spend with Dad.

Each Meyerowtiz actor is aces in pulling off their own unique form of neuroticism, but this is primarily Sandler’s forte. It plays into his pet interests of fraught but tender father-son relationships and lovable man-children. Danny is probably talented enough to have been a professional musician, but instead he is terminally unemployed, though he occasionally crafts goofy piano-based tunes with his teenage daughter Eliza (Grace van Patten). But this is not really a matter of arrested development, as Danny tracks as a genuine adult, just one who never had to accept professional responsibility, especially because he could still manage to be a great father while retaining a childlike disposition. And I haven’t even mentioned all the moments of that patented Sandler yelling put to good use. In fact, the film opens with Danny and Eliza attempting to find a parking spot in Manhattan, a premiere situation for Sandler frustration if ever there was one.

The main narrative thrust involves the Meyerowitz siblings dealing with Harold’s extended critical hospital stay. Considering all the tension in these relationships, this could be a recipe for disaster. And while a few scuffles do break out, Danny, Jean, and Matthew instead mostly bond over their shared screwed-up natures and resolve to embrace forgiveness and gratitude. Plus, they also all get to gather around and watch Eliza’s work as a film student at Bard College, which consists of the surreal sexcapades of “Pagina Man.” It features a fair bit more nudity than you might think an 18-year-old would be comfortable sharing with her family, but despite any discomfort, they all agree she has talent. And since she comes from a family that is so naturally entertaining, how could she not?

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is Recommended If You Like: Noah Baumbach’s New York, Big Daddy, Goofy student films

Grade: 4 out of 5 Ex-Wives