Just what grade does Adam Sandler’s ‘Uncut Gems’ earn?

by Megan Bianco

The peculiar case of Adam Sandler continues to fascinate movie lovers into the new decade.

This is a man who hasn’t bothered to hide how much success he has found by doing the bare minimum since at least the early 2000s. Yet, like most comedians, he will branch out with serious projects once in a while. Whether for a change of pace or to be considered more legitimate by his peers, Sandler’s been rather lucky with his dramatic choices, teaming up with with such talents as Paul Thomas Anderson, James L. Brooks, Noah Baumbach and even old pal Judd Apatow.

But for whatever reason, Sandler seems only motivated to do these kinds of interesting features literally once a decade. Which is frustrating for fans because, maybe surprisingly, he has versatile range as an actor – yet chooses to make a living phoning it in with lame comedies. His most recent film, “Uncut Gems” released back during the holidays, is already one of his most interesting and memorable efforts.

Written and directed by Benny and Josh Safdie, who previously had a stellar indie breakthrough with “Good Time,” the film follows New York City jeweler Howard Ratner (Sandler), who lives off the adrenaline rush of betting constantly. Everything from auctions to basketball games, to even gambling his personal interests – such as having a long-time affair with his employee Julia (Julia Fox) while raising a family with wife Dinah (Idina Menzel). Things come to a climax when Howard’s life comes to depend on selling a recently acquired gem to pay off all his debts.

Lakeith Stanfield, Judd Hirsch and basketball star Kevin Garnett appear as prominent figures in Howard’s life. Between Sandler’s unexpected range as an actor, the Safdie Bros’ potential as filmmakers and the hit indie studio behind the movie, A24, “Uncut Gems” was expected to get a lot of Oscar hype. But it ultimately ended up one of the biggest snubs of the season.

How did that happen? Rumors ranged from snobbery from Academy members – which wouldn’t be a surprise – to A24’s usually good PR team getting an unfortunate redo. Whatever the case, compared to how things were looking in December, “Uncut Gems” having nothing at the Oscars while something as incredibly hollow and ham-fisted as Jay Roach’s “Bombshell” gets three nominations is still perplexing.

While I personally preferred “Good Time” of the two recent popular Safdie movies, seeing something as frantic and relentless as “Uncut Gems” at the Oscars, SAGs, BAFTAs or Globes, would have been more intriguing than a lot of what we got.

Megan Bianco

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