On Christmas Day, in our tradition, Chinese restaurants were bustling, and so were movie theaters. The movie “Uncut Gems” was front and center. Days before, I was online vying to locate tickets to sold-out audiences and drove to Sandy Springs Tap House to snatch up the second row.
My anticipation to see the film stemmed from seeing Adam Sandler several weeks ago on “Sunday Morning CBS” visiting his old-fashioned Jewish mother’s house in anticipation of the movie and his first major serious starring role versus his comedic “Hanukkah Song” gig we see this time of year. Sandler came off as a really nice guy describing how his cell phone had an alarm keyed to this children’s texts to alert them to practice their Hebrew lessons.
Perhaps the only redeeming quality of “Uncut Gems” was Sandler’s clawing role as an utterly irredeemable Manhattan diamond district merchant, father, husband, paramour, son-in- law, and lowlife human being set on self-destruction in unbelievable sequences of gut- wrenching bad decisions.
Jewish off-screen too, Idina Menzel and Judd Hirsch also gave standout performances.
The movie, directed by Jewish brothers Benny and Josh Safdie, portrayed no group in a positive light. The black rap and athlete scene, the street hustlers, the bookies, the Ethiopian mining culture, were all mixed in a soup of depravity. On the other hand, Sandler’s character Howie had a lovely extended family, wife and children who somehow stood by as he lived a double life with the sexy girlfriend-employee he supported. Maybe she was the only one who understood and cared for him. Lord knows why.
The truth-telling denouement moment was a discussion with an NBA player where Howie explains how his own high from making a deal equates to the athlete’s drive to still play aggressively even when he is ahead. They do it for the “win,” the adrenaline rush, pushing limits.
Reflective of the Bernie Madoff question, when our people go astray, “Does it make Jews look bad?” Many scenes feature Judaica: a closeup of mezuzot, yads, the menorah behind Howie’s desk, the relatable and beautiful family seder scene providing a brief respite from the mayhem.
So here is a man with an $80,000 car, a $3 million house, fighting over pennies, stuffed naked in a car trunk, being punched at every turn and dumped soaking wet in a Manhattan pond, … running, running, running.
Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 93 percent critics review. On my Facebook post, the reaction was: “Awful,” “Writers want to push how far someone will go and then boom – nothing matters.” “Saw it. Intense. F-word said 745 times.” A therapist noted, “A better way of expressing his character could be multiple personalities, lack of impulse control, instant gratification, addiction, and narcissism.” Conversely, a 22-year-old theater student offered, “I really enjoyed it. Thought it was one of the best movies I’ve seen in a while. Sandler was incredible.”
Should you see it? On the one hand, it may be nominated for an Academy Award. On the other, it’s like watching a train wreck.