I went into Uncut Gems knowing next to nothing about it, other than that Adam Sandler is prominently involved and that the movie’s generating a bit of Oscar buzz. I left questioning every positive thought I’ve ever had toward film critics.
Spoiler alert, by the way.
Uncut Gems is an ugly, abrasive, senseless waste of storytelling. I don’t think I’ve ever hoped for a protagonist to meet a grisly end as vehemently as I wished that fate upon Sandler’s Howard Ratner, a New York City jeweler trying to con his way through his gambling debts and his family obligations. He’s loud, he’s crass, and his obsession with his unexplained vices renders him pretty fucking stupid. He’s Billy Madison without the humor. Every time the audience begs Ratner to do the right thing or the smart thing he invariably does the worst thing imaginable. After two hours debating whether to try to fall asleep or just walk about and drown my annoyance at the bar, I welcomed the final gunshot to Ratner’s forehead like I do the arrival of the pizza delivery guy: with a sigh of pleasure and a step buoyed by the promise of an evening that’s about to get so fucking much better.
I especially don’t get why anyone’s treating this performance any different than Sandler’s past work. He’s simply rehashing the usual Sandler-ness, except without any of the heart. A scene where he tries to reconnect with his wife is played no differently than Happy Gilmore trying to entice Virginia Venit into a late night rendezvous at the local ice rink. If only he’d told Mrs. Ratner that he likes his mistress and she likes him back and she showed him her boobies and he likes them too.
Perhaps I would’ve enjoyed this study of such a depraved, irredeemable character a bit better if any of his flaws had been properly explained. What’s with the compulsive gambling? What’s the full story between Howard and his loan shark brother in law? Why the hell is he cheating on his gorgeous wife at the obvious expense of the children he seems to somewhat care about? Why can’t a fucking jeweler pay off his gambling debts with some of the inventory from his obviously well-stocked store? Above all, what in the fucking fuck does his beautiful younger mistress fucking see in him? New York’s a big city full of rich, cheating assholes. How hard can it be to find a sugar daddy with a better personality than Howard Ratner’s?
Given the hang up on unexplained questions that’s become such a hallmark of modern movie criticism, seeing positive reviews of this film ignore it’s obvious problems is a real head scratcher. Perhaps there’s something to Uncut Gems I’m simply missing. I’m not sure I want to find it.