By Caz Armstrong
This review contains spoilers
I haven’t been so uncomfortable in the cinema for a very long time. Not because of the seats, they had fancy electronic recliners and footrests. But the tone and content of this film were immensely stressful – in a bad way.
“Uncut Gems” (from directors Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie) follows Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), a Jewish jewelry dealer in New York, through a complicated web of deals intended to result in him repaying large debts. But his love of gambling gets the better of him and threatens to undo everything.
Throughout the film, all characters seem to converse via the medium of bellowing and swearing at the top of their lungs. Nobody listens to anybody else, they just scream over each other in a hoarse-throated cacophony. The score was a jarring mismatch of instruments and there was always knocking at the door or repeatedly phoning, just to add to the melee.
This made the tone grating to the point of stress and discomfort. That was the point – to instill Howard’s fraught state into the audience – but it only made me dislike the characters more and meant I had no sympathy as they dug their own graves.
Howard made a series of terrible choices, one after the other. If at any point he’d have calmly explained his plan to anyone involved he might have got away with just a couple of punches to the face but his business and finances in tact.
Even an ounce of emotion or sense of a difficult dilemma would have got me on the side. But Howard was a bull in his own china shop, thick-headedly destroying everything he’d made while bellowing.
“Throughout the film all characters seem to converse via the medium of bellowing and swearing at the top of their lungs. Nobody listens to anybody else, they just scream over each other in a hoarse-throated cacophony.”
The only real emotion he showed was self-pity and regret but even that was soon forgotten and he never actually developed or changed his ways.
Howard’s feelings towards gambling on basketball games are made clear when we see his reaction to winning. He writhes in ecstasy and can barely speak. So we see his orgasmic love of winning, but if someone is willing to risk financial ruin and even death for a bet, how did he manage to take his jewelry business so far and only have a few debts? It doesn’t hang together.
Howard’s constant bad choices include having an affair and leaving his family for his girlfriend Julia (Julia Fox). The character of Julia is perplexing. She is absolutely besotted with Howard for reasons that were not clear. She was definitely more interested in him than his money so it wasn’t a golddigger thing.
“This was a stressful film about men making terrible choices for reasons which didn’t make sense. Women were props to either forgive – or not forgive – a man’s actions.”
In an act of paranoid rage, Howard falsely accuses her of cheating, screams at her in the street and calls her a skank. He doesn’t listen to her protests of innocence because he doesn’t listen to anybody and throws her out of the house.
But a few scenes later she’s back in his life fawning over him like a lovesick teenager. Her level of obsession defied common sense and we were given no backstory to explain it.
This was a stressful film about men making terrible choices for reasons which didn’t make sense. Women were props to either forgive – or not forgive – a man’s actions, only driving any kind of action at the end and even that was literally just to serve Howard. If you like watching people scream over each other until they’re hoarse for 2 hours and 10 minutes then this is the film for you.