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Review: Uncut Gems (2019)

Everybody say, “I’m sorry for doubting you, Adam Sandler.”

I’ll be honest. After reviewing the Adam Sandler comedy Murder Mystery (2019) – check out my review here – I resigned myself to the fact that I’d end up reviewing nothing of his except mediocre comedies. You know, movies similar to Grown Ups (2010) or Jack and Jill (2011). I was certainly not expecting to review Sandler’s critically acclaimed thriller, Uncut Gems (2019). Also, yes, I know I’m late to the game in reviewing this but it finally dropped on Netflix this week and I wanted to see what everyone’s been buzzing about. Wow, you guys. I wasn’t expecting to become this invested in an Adam Sandler movie, but here we are.

Screen Shot 2020-02-06 at 11.26.52 PM
Credit: / A24 / Netflix

Uncut Gems follows Howard Ratner, a New York City jeweller with a nasty gambling addiction. Burdened with debts and being chased down by dangerous debt collectors, Howard must sell a rare gem he purchased for a high price to take the heat off him and his family.

Everything being said about Uncut Gems is true. It’s a wild ride of a movie that’s an enigma to watch. It literally starts with a shot of Sandler getting a colonoscopy (which would be played for laughs in one of his comedies but is an artistic choice in Uncut Gems) and believe it or not, that’s not even the most shocking part of the movie. What’s shocking is the journey that directors Josh and Benny Safdie take you on. An Odyssey of horrible life choices and anxiety-inducing events, I wanted to look away multiple times but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Uncut Gems will have you on the edge of your seat unable to break away from the intense story unfolding on screen.

At the centre of that story is Sandler. Okay, I never thought I’d say this but here it goes:

Adam Sandler was robbed of an Oscar nomination.

Seriously. His performance as Howard is breathtaking to witness. A fantastic transformation that’s a far departure from his unremarkable recent comedy roles, Sandler disappears into the part. I had to remind myself many times that the shady, scheming, slippery eel I was watching onscreen was the same actor who did Billy Madison (1995) and Little Nicky (2000). Gone are the annoying impressions and voices and in their place is the unhinged mania and unpredictability that I’ve only seen in Batman villains. Honestly, this is a better villain origin story than Joker (2019). By the way, check out my review for that movie here. Sandler is in literally every scene, performing at the top of his game and just freaking owning it. It’s almost like a one-man show. I still can’t wrap my head around how Sandler was able to make a creepy, deplorable character still have a touch of sympathy. It bears repeating: The man was robbed of an Oscar nomination.

Joining Sandler are a host of phenomenal supporting actors, including Lakeith Stanfield and Idina Menzel. Now, I’ll be honest. When I heard that Stanfield and Menzel, two actors I love, were doing an Adam Sandler movie… I was like, “oh God, please no.” But after seeing Stanfield and Menzel as Howard’s assistant, Demany and wife, Dinah respectively, I’m thrilled they were cast in Uncut Gems. Stanfield has a great chemistry with Sandler, although that’s not surprising considering how amazing he is in every movie of his I’ve seen. A sketchy sidekick in this, an unknowing victim in Get Out (2017), a suave detective in Knives Out (2019)… He’s such a versatile actor! I can’t wait to see him as a romantic lead in The Photograph (2020). By the way, check out my review for Knives Out here. Hopefully this leads to more leading roles for him!

I completely understand why Menzel was cast to play Howard’s bitter and frustrated wife. She possesses such a fire and an edge that we don’t normally get to see and it’s incredible to witness it come out. Hmmm, to see her…”let it go?” (winky face). By the way, check out my review for Frozen (2013) here. Menzel is able to put so much animosity and hatred into a single look that you can practically feel her disgust for Howard radiating through the screen. God, I hope this leads to more live-action roles for her.

I’d also love to see more of newcomer Julia Fox, who plays Howard’s mistress, Julia. Like a young Debi Mazar, Fox is fiery, fiesty and the perfectly twisted Bonnie to Sandler’s Clyde. Fox is just another piece of a fantastically thought out and written movie that remains a thrilling experience from start to finish. And so unpredictable! I won’t spoil anything, but all throughout the movie I could legitimately see Howard winning everything, going to jail, or even dying. This movie is a trip, believe me. Fast-paced in both tone and story, the two-hour and 15-minute runtime flies by. On Sunday, before you watch the Oscars, go ahead and watch Uncut Gems first. Then shake with rage when you realize Sandler was robbed.

Uncut Gems is totally deserving of the praise and recognition that it’s been receiving. I’m not going to lie to you. Watching it is going to be stressful and put you on edge, but it’s definitely worth it. Trust me. This movie is a not-so-hidden gem. Wow, yet another horrible pun in the review. It’s been a while since I’ve thrown a couple of those in. It’s kind of refreshing!

Have you seen Uncut Gems? What did you think?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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