Synopsis: Gambling-addicted jeweler tries to settle a debt.
Before reviewing the Safdie Bros.’ Uncut Gems, let’s take a look at the movie’s star: Adam Sandler.
Is Adam Sandler a mensch? (Mensch is a Yiddish word that means a good person, someone of honorable character.)
Evidence in the affirmative: Sandler has propped up the entertainment careers of friends like David Spade and –inexcusably– Rob Schneider. Friends Jennifer Aniston and Drew Barrymore sing his praises.
Evidence in the negative: What kind of person inflicts such dumb, unfunny “comedies” on the public?
Sandler built his reputation on Saturday Night Live in the early 90’s and went on to star in a series of films from Happy Gilmore (1996) to I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. His box office power has dimmed significantly over the years. But he has a loyal fan base who are willing to watch his content from home. Who, in Zeus’ name, are these people? Idk, but Netflix figured it was worth offering Sandler a multi-pic deal. His first “effort” was the offensive Western “comedy” The Ridiculous Six, which earns a 0 % percent with Rotten Tomatoes. Even among people who chose to watch it, the movie rates just 33%.
Evidence in the negative: Native American employees on the set of The Ridiculous Six found the script demands so degrading and culturally offensive that they brought their concerns to management (Sandler was a writer and producer on the movie) and were allegedly told to quit if they didn’t like it.
Evidence in the affirmative: Anecdotes found on the internet include tales of Sandler helping a kid assemble his plate at a buffet. And a man claims Sandler carried him off-court when he tore his ACL during a basketball game with industry types.
So…I had to steel myself to watch Uncut Gems– I dislike Adam Sandler movies, but wanted to see a movie that was getting good buzz. So, here we go…
Sandler’s character is Howard Ratner, owner of an NYC jewelry store in the Diamond District. He sells flashy gold & diamond jewelry and watches. He counts on a contact, Demanty to bring him NBA players with cash to burn. Howard is a good salesman, but he’s barely able to keep his head above water because he’s a gambling addict.
His wife, Dinah is played by Idina Menzel. They have a luxe house in the burbs and she can’t stand him. He lies and is incredibly selfish. My partner remarked that the character manages to be as unlikable as Adam Sandler. Agreed! Idina/Dinah has grown disgusted with Howard’s dishonesty and philandering and they plan on announcing a breakup to their kids after Passover. I was hoping there might be a reason for her to sing in the story, but no luck there. Busy Howard has a twenty-something girlfriend, Julia (Julia Fox) who works for him and who resides in his Manhattan apartment.
Howard spends a lot of time going to bookies, pawn shops and loan sharks. He owes a brother-in-law 100 K. He thinks he’s hit the jackpot when he obtains a rare uncut opal that he plans to turn a big profit on. Naturally, he can’t play things safe; one day when Celtics’ basketball star Kevin Garnett stops by to shop, Howard can’t resist showing him the opal. So, stupid Howard loans him the opal for good luck and counts on his associate Demanty to return the stone.
What follows is a speedy and dangerous few days riding through Howard’s scams. He gets beat up plenty, argues with his girlfriend and tries to keep his wife in the wings, just in case…
There are some bizarre — in a good way scenes: In-his-fifties Sandler’s gambler, with his grey-free dyed hair and over-sized teeth (good job of depicting a bad set of capped teeth), looks for his hot girlfriend at a club where everyone is half is age. He ends up going ballistic when he catches his gf in a compromising position in a restroom with the Weeknd (playing himself). Another time a couple of senior citizen-looking enforcers whoop Howard out on the street and dump him into a fountain. I have to admit that I liked when they tossed him into the water. Take that for Grown Ups and Grown Ups 2!
Thankfully, I can report that this is not an “Adam Sandler” movie, wherein he has anything to do with writing or producing the movie. Josh and Benny Safdie actually make him act instead of his usual lazy line deliveries. Thank Hera that this isn’t another stale, extended Sandler skit co-starring his lackeys.
Back to the mensch question…
Evidence in the negative: A mensch doesn’t, for example, make gross remarks about women — people who represent more than half of the population! Sandler actually promoted his deal with Netflix by saying that he liked how Netflix rhymes with wet chicks. Lots of old school objectification of women in his movie, as in Pixels (2015).
Evidence in the affirmative: Doing mitzvahs (basically, good deeds) is menschy. Sandler has performed at the autism fundraiser “Night of Too Many Stars,” and donated to causes including Feeding America and the Boys and Girls Club.
Conclusion? : It’s commendable to be a loyal friend and to be cordial to people you meet. But it takes more than that to be a mensch. A mensch is someone to look up to, someone of stellar character.
And I think we can agree that a mensch wouldn’t create and disseminate the stinking dreck that is Little Nicky. Is Adam Sandler a schmendrick? I’ll leave that up to you to decide.
Either way, Sandler does deserve credit for his portrayal of Howard, a very un-menschy guy.
Movie Loon’s Movie Review Shortcut:
Cut to the Chase: Effective, fast-paced portrait of a gambling addict.
Humor Highlight: Sandler’s character fighting the Weeknd over a woman.