Uncut Gems (2019) is a stress-inducing journey

Uncut Gems (2019) was ultimately two hours of feeling unbelievably annoyed and extremely anxious. That’s not necessarily a criticism, as these feelings appear to be exactly what directors Benny and Josh Safdie want the audience to experience. At the same time, that doesn’t mean I enjoyed shifting uncomfortably in my seat as the film at one point had me run my hands through my non-existent hair as my frustration reached new heights. 

Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) is a charismatic New York City jeweler who is constantly on the lookout for his next big win. This comes in all aspects of his life, from relationships to gambling to his jewelry sales. However, this desire to always raise the stakes has put him in a vicious situation, and the pressure coming from all angles looks to do him in. 

Sandler is the centerpiece of this film. It’s hard to not look at him as Sandler, despite this being a different role than he usually takes. For me, Howard is mostly just the “angry” Sandler performance, where he is constantly yelling and cursing at those around him. It works for the story – but it still felt like I was just looking at Sandler, and not Howard. This made me initially miss some of his better scenes, where he is able to give a little more of a nuanced performance than some of the more tense sequences. What Sandler is able to do, though, is make this scheming character slightly empathetic and likable, even though it is clear he is in these situations because of his own choices. However, it’s likely that he doesn’t have control over the things he keeps doing.

Sandler isn’t the only good performance in this film, though. The big breakout is from Julia Fox, who plays Julia – an employee and girlfriend/mistress to Howard. This is her first feature film released, and she is quite good. The role requires her to do a variety of things, from being unbelievably affectionate to Howard, while other times being absolutely livid with him. She is able to deliver every time she’s on-screen. 

LaKeith Stanfield continues to impress whenever he is given a role, no matter how big or small. He brings such naturalism to his performances, and he has played a large variety of characters. I loved him in this movie, and really want a spin-off film where we see what his deal is, as he seems to have some major connections – yet he doesn’t appear to be anyone famous himself. I’d like to know how he makes the contacts that he does – such as Kevin Garnett – who plays this version of himself quite well. 

Idina Menzel plays Dinah, Howard’s wife – though they are on the brink of a divorce. She doesn’t get many scenes or much to do in them, but there are two interactions with Howard that are some of the more dramatic moments in the film. She allows Sandler to really bounce some of his more nuanced lines off of her character, and is one of the bigger emotional cruxes of the film. 

The plot of this film is straightforward, and feels like a long rollercoaster ride where the guy you got stuck next to is revealing his life story the entire time. You aren’t sure exactly what you’re feeling as the carts slam you around in all directions, as his story both compels and repulses you – and you’re left wondering when the hell can you get off this nightmare and away from this self-destructive individual. Uncut Gems is well made and engaging, but I think I’ll probably not revisit it. The movie earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.

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