Published Dec 18, 2019Grown Ups 2, Adam Sandler's much-maligned comedy-crew gangbang that currently boasts a score of seven percent on Rotten Tomatoes, is a mostly plotless flick. One of its main recurring gags is the "burp snart," a move invented by Kevin James' character (who is probably just named Kevin James) where he burps, sneezes and farts in quick succession. It's one of the dumbest things ever committed to film, and yet Sandler's infectious enjoyment of it makes the audience enjoy it too. No matter the source material, it's impossible not to root for the Sand-man.
The same goes for Sandler as Howie Ratner, the skeevy jeweller at the centre of Uncut Gems, the latest film-shot stress-out from the Safdie brothers. Howie is, for all intents and purposes, a piece of shit. He rips off everyone he meets, he sells things that don't belong to him and he's constantly gambling with other people's money. Yet, as his life becomes increasingly hectic and his myriad problems catch up with him, we can't help but cheer him on.
If there's such a thing as A24 as an aesthetic, it's all tied up neatly in the work of the Safdie brothers. As previously evidenced with the admittedly superior Good Time, Josh and Benny are undeniably cool, ticking all the right boxes for a new generation of hypebeast film snobs — they shoot on film, they reference all the right movies, they make impeccable musical choices (wisely, they keep hiring Oneohtrix Point Never's Daniel Lopatin to make their scores).
Don't listen to the nerds: hipness can be a beautiful thing, and like Good Time, we see a wonderful world of gritty, dirty fingernail New York that feels both vital and absurd. Unlike Good Time, which placed us headfirst in the midst of an unrelenting stress storm, Uncut Gems is a slower (but no less chaotic) burn.
Howie has been planning to pay off all his debts with one last deal — a rare black opal rock direct from an African mine. In attempting to auction it off, however, he must face off against some pissed-off debt collectors, a desperate Kevin Garnett (who steals scenes on the regular) and tumultuous relationships with both his soon-to-be ex-wife (Idina Menzel) and his flirtatious mistress (newcomer Julia Fox). To be clear, Uncut Gems is a portrait of a man drowning in the consequences of countless bad decisions.
The supporting cast is excellent, and Sandler deserves all of the praise he's receiving for his turn as Ratner (although true heads know he's always this good). Still, one can't help but feel that Uncut Gems is a lesser work than Good Time. It often feels like Howie is travelling from one gritty mishap to another like he's living in a Grand Theft Auto V cut scene or a movie-length episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Then again, even as I'm typing that out it sounds good as hell, so maybe Uncut Gems really does live up to the hype.