When that heavy abruptly shot Howie in the head the whole theater gasped, and I felt a wash of relief. “Was that actually the happy ending?” one of my friends asked as we walked away from the theater, and “oh it absolutely was,” I responded. Howie dies at probably the highest he’s ever felt, abuzz with victory and possibility—and before he can proceed to fuck this up too, as he has fucked up everything this whole movie and seemingly his whole life. It’s actually the nicest thing the movie can do for him, and the nicest thing it can do for us, who can finally, finally breathe, now that Howie will at last be quiet for one goddamn blessed minute. Is that dark? Sure. So is Uncut Gems.
Mostly it is cacophonous. When I imagine the script I picture it criss-crossed with text like those old 19th-century letters where they were trying to save paper, all the lines just running over each other and at cross purposes. I’d say the characters’ volume keeps going up and up as they fight for verbal dominance, but honestly I think Adam Sandler just yells ceaselesly for the entire runtime. Perhaps not in a few of his scenes with Idina Menzel, probably because he knows he’ll never win that way with her.
Incidentally, Great Actor Adam Sandler is back, but Idina Menzel is TERRIFIC in this. She is distinct and sharp and so, so funny. I’m a little obsessed with it actually, how this movie let both of its female leads be, it could be argued, the funniest characters in this black comedy. It would have been so easy, traditional, for Menzel and Julia Fox to simply be the combative no-fun wife and the emotional bimbo mistress, each a different kind of albatross that the male lead is supposed to shake off. But Howie’s soon-to-be-ex wife Dinah is a highlight every time she’s on screen, and Julia (yes same name) is actually the only one who gets character development and an arc. In a welcome surprise, Julia absolutely OWNS the driving final act, starting with her hilariously crying along with Howie and showing him her new tattoo, up until she’s slipping off that very tan rich man and into a limo, with her two big bags of cash. I hope to god that her and Dinah just split the money—Howie’s survivors.
So Uncut Gems actually treated its mistreated women pretty well, treated them as real characters, which I appreciate. It was also entirely unafraid to dive into issues of race and economics, which I appreciated as well. And they hired basketball star Kevin Garnett to play a fictionalized version of himself, for a far larger role than a simple cameo. He was a full-on supporting character, and he nailed it! He was out there really acting, and doing a totally good job! Watching someone love something is one of the best ways to make us love that character—if you can pull it off, and that’s the if. But Kevin Garnett’s weird love for that hunk of opal was palpable, and now I love him.
Anyway, this is a movie that is deliberately exhausting and unpleasant and chaotic and harsh, but as mentioned, with a happy ending. That the happy ending is the main character getting shot in his jewelry store feels rather peak Safdies, but here we are (New York City).