A24’s Uncut Gems promises to be the latest vehicle for Adam Sandler to do that thing he occasionally does: trade in his commercial-friendly, slapstick performances for a surprisingly acclaimed acting role in an indie film from an established auteur director (for his previous efforts in this lane see Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love and Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)). After premiering to almost uniformly positive reviews at the Telluride Film Festival in August, the film, directed by the Safdie Brothers, has put Sandler firmly in the conversation for a Best Actor nomination at the Oscars. Yet, Sandler’s inclusion in the crime thriller is far from the most surprising thing about it. The cast also includes NBA player Kevin Garnett (as himself), Tony winner (and voice of Enchanted‘s Elsa) Idina Menzel, The Weeknd (again, as himself), Lakeith Stanfield, Pom Klementieff, and (in her screen debut) fashion model Paloma Elsesser. Oh, plus the film’s producers include Martin Scorsese and Emily Ratajkowski’s husband Sebastian Bear-McClard.
Of course, that still leaves us wondering what, exactly, Uncut Gems is about. Let’s dig in, without getting into the big spoilers.
Adam Sandler Plays a Jeweler To a Certain Kind of Star With a Nasty Gambling Addiction
Set primarily in New York City’s Diamond District, Sandler plays Howard Ratner, a creator of big, flashy jewelry for big, flashy celebrities. The jewel-incrusted Furby chain show in the trailer instantly communicates what kind of jewelry Howard creates. It’s not stuff to show off on the Oscars red carpet, but rather MTV Cribs. He’s got a wife (played by Menzel), kids, and a home on Long Island. He’s also got mounting sports betting debts, but he’s managed to seemingly control the situation for the time being.
The Action Kicks Off When NBA Player Kevin Garnett Borrows Some Black Opals
Former Boston Celtics player Garnett shows up as his younger self (the film is set in 2012), and is introduced to Howard by a jewelry broker played by Lakeith Stanfield. Howard has acquired a rare black opal after learning about the stones on the History Channel. Garnett asks to borrow the stones as a good luck charm before the NBA finals, but Howard asks for his championship ring in return, thus setting off a series of unfortunate events.
Of Course, It’s About So Much More Than Crime, Gambling, and Gems
However, the film is not your standard “bang, bang, boom, boom” action thriller. The film also delves into Sandler’s character’s Jewish identity, his relationship with his wife and family, and his health. The story of those uncut gems themselves gets explored as well with scenes set in the African caves from which they came.
There’s Some Celebrities Who Play Themselves
Not only does Garnett show up as himself, but so does The Weeknd, along with rapper Ca$h Out. Famed New York sports radio host Mike Francesa also appears in the movie, but not as himself, but rather as a man named “Anthony.”
This Could Also Mark a Turn in the Career of the Safdie Brothers
Ben and Josh Safdie’s first film, The Pleasure of Being Robbed, was actually originally commissioned as short film to promote Kate Spade handbags, but soon turned into a feature with the support of Andy Spade. They continued to make low-budget films for the festival circuit until they had a true critical breakout with 2014’s Heaven Knows What. Robert Pattinson and Jennifer Jason Leigh signed up for their next film Good Times, and now with a star-studded cast and producers like Scorsese and Scott Rudin on board, Uncut Gems promises to propel the duo into the big times. Indeed, the pair have reportedly signed on to remake the ’80s classic 48 Hrs. but there’s been no updates on that project recently.
Meanwhile, Adam Sandler is in the Midst of a Critical Resurgence Himself
While Sandler definitively proved himself as a man of talent beyond songs about lunch ladies with Punch Drunk Love, his career after that was full of hits and misses for a while afterwards, but it appears the box office comedy champs has been focusing on his legacy lately. 2017’s The Meyerowitz Stories saw his return to more serious fair, and his first standup special in 15 years, 100% Fresh, garnered critical praise from even the most discerning of comedy snobs. In other words, the soil is fertile for an Oscar run. Though, don’t think for one second that Sandler is going totally arthouse on us from here on out. His next film after this is called Hubie Halloween. Shaquille O’Neal will co-star.
In any event, Uncut Gems will get a limited release on December 13th before going wide on December 25th.