I am not a fan of Adam Sandler comedies. I liked Punch-Drunk Love, although that was mostly Paul Thomas Anderson (as I noted at the time, Punch-Drunk Love was not my favorite PTA movie, but it was my favorite Adam Sandler movie, showing that I had lower standards for Sandler). About Sandler in that movie, I wrote, "I see decent acting chops peeking out of his work when he isn’t being an idiot."
It's arguable whether Sandler is "being an idiot" as Howard Ratner, a jeweler with a gambling problem. Howard's life is a mess, and he made it that way, so on that level, he's an idiot, but he's not a childlike buffoon like Billy Madison. Sandler is quite good in Uncut Gems, but since Howard is such an infuriating character, I can't stand the character, perhaps more so because Sandler is so good at portraying him. Mick LaSalle wrote, "There’s something about Sandler — in general, but especially here — that seems fundamentally decent and vulnerable, so that when we see him taking absurd risks, we wonder what his mother was like." A good line, but it doesn't work if you don't already find Sandler likable. I've never found him fundamentally decent in the few movies I've seen, so unlike LaSalle, when I see Howard taking absurd risks, I wonder why I'm watching a movie about such a dreadful character.
This is my first movie from the Safdies, so I have nothing to compare it to. Uncut Gems is flashy ... the technique consistently draws attention to itself. Added to Howard's tiresome nature, the hectic film making compounds the irritation. At one point, I checked to see if this long (135 minutes) movie was near the end, and there was still an hour to go. I'm not sure why I didn't just quit watching.
The Safdies (and casting directors Francine Maisler and Jennifer Venditti) have put together an interesting and varied cast, including Lakeith Stanfield, Idina Menzel, Eric Bogosian, and Judd Hirsch. Julia Fox makes an impressive feature-film debut. Basketball great Kevin Garnett does well playing a version of himself, and the Safdies work Garnett's real-life performance in the 2012 playoffs is nicely integrated into the plot. The Weeknd also appears as himself. It's good to see the names Tilda Swinton and Natasha Lyonne in the credits, but they are only brief unseen voices. Best of all is John Amos, who has a cameo that provides the best laugh of the movie.
Uncut Gems is too long, and it bugged the shit out of me. I hope I never see it again. But remove my taste preferences from the evaluation, and I grudgingly admit that Uncut Gems isn't so bad. Not as good as Punch-Drunk Love, but way better than Billy Madison. #359 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.
Here's the first ten minutes: