Editor’s note, May 25, 2020: This story was originally published during Uncut Gems’ theatrical run. We’re resurfacing it now as the film begins streaming on Netflix.
Is Adam Sandler hot? Is Kevin Garnett the best basketball player turned actor ever? Were old iPhones better? Here’s the Ringer staff’s thoughts on Uncut Gems.
1. What is your tweet-length review of Uncut Gems?
Katie Baker: Is Uncut Gems a sports movie? Quote-tweet this with your thoughts!
Andrew Gruttadaro: If Good Time was 15 percent more stressful, 15 percent sadder, with equal amounts of Queens energy and 100 percent more Adam Sandler and Kevin Garnett.
Paolo Uggetti: A two-hour heat check of a movie on caffeine that never stops and completely delivers. I felt like I was holding my breath the entire time, but I know that isn’t true because I laughed a lot.
Alison Herman: This Fiddler on the Roof sequel owns.
Sean Yoo: Gambling is dangerous, kids. Don’t do it unless you have adult supervision, and even then you probably shouldn’t do it.
Justin Sayles: A two-hour-plus panic attack where everyone yells all the time other than, somehow, KG.
Alyssa Bereznak: I suffered from more concentrated physical anxiety over the course of this movie than I had in maybe the entire year. Yet somehow I love it.
2. What was the best moment of the film?
Gruttadaro: I NEVER RESURFACED ANYTHING.
Baker: I haven’t cared and worried so much about an opening tip in my entire life. This movie is the gateway drug to degenerate gambling.
Uggetti: When KG says, without hesitation, that Tony Allen would win in a fight against Ben Wallace. Second place: The scene when they can’t open the glass door because the magnet isn’t working was arguably more stressful than the ending.
Herman: A hot take: Safdie brothers movies are not actually that stressful! Both Uncut Gems and Good Time are very good at endearing the audience to their antiheroes while making it clear these are terrible morons who deserve to suffer the consequences. They also tend to isolate the (extremely deserved) fate of these protagonists from the fates of their loved ones; just as Connie’s and Nick’s journeys diverge fairly early, Howard’s actions are largely contained to his own life, apart from one terrifying moment when his kids seem to be in danger. It’s therefore easy to sit back, enjoy the ride, and not let all those buzzer noises get to you. I always felt excited by Uncut Gems, but I never felt overwhelmed.
Sayles: The club scene was very specifically 2012, which means it was very specifically my shit. Also, Howard yelling at Julia to go ahead and “fuck the Weeknd” was the funniest line delivery of the film, for my money.
Bereznak: I really do appreciate how realistic the Safdie brothers got with illustrating sexting’s inherent idiocy and propensity for typos.
Yoo: As the film nears its end you realize that Howard is actually going to hit on his massive parlay and potentially solve most, if not all, of his problems with this life-changing win. But hope disappears within minutes of the victory. It’s a brilliant moment that makes you feel elated and devastated at the same time. You had a feeling during the entire movie that Howard’s life would be on the line, but for a split second you forgot about it all and revelled in the joy felt by Howard and Julia. A lone emotional bright spot in an otherwise anxiety-driven movie.
3. What was your least favorite part of the movie?
Baker: Howard thinking he’s gonna get a few minutes to chat with an NBA player after practice and then getting brutally ghosted by a liaison. Who knew Uncut Gems was going to viscerally remind me of all my career lows?!
Uggetti: The inclusion of the Weekend into the actual plot of the movie is a move I can’t help but respect, and yet the scene of him and Julia Fox in the bathroom made me cringe so hard that I couldn’t feel my face afterward.
Sayles: I expected more Francesa and more Furby.
Gruttadaro: The ending is a truly brutal gut-punch.
Bereznak: I get that displaying the ugly origin of the titular uncut gem was thematically important to this film, but it was also gross! I don’t need to see a dude’s tibia. I’m not sure we needed to see that. And the aura of the rock could’ve been even more powerful and mysterious if we were required to imagine where it came from.
Herman: Leaving the theater?
Yoo: That Weeknd concert was weird. All that yelling for a blacklight and it only looked kinda cool.
4. Finish the sentence: “Adam Sandler was …”
Baker: … the proprietor of the most specific and perfect Manhattan crash pad. Nothing good happens after 2 a.m., and when it doesn’t, that apartment is exactly where.
Uggetti: As greasy as the bottom of a bag of fries. In other words, perfect.
Gruttadaro: … absolutely stunning. His sociopathic compulsiveness, his patheticness, his inexplicable charm—these are all qualities Sandler has portrayed before, but they were combined and calcified by the Safdies.
Herman: Enjoying his once-in-a-decade foray out of his immensely profitable, critically derided lane into highbrow acclaim. In three years we’ll be back to sneering at his punch lines again, so enjoy this while it lasts!
Bereznak: … not hot, as some terminally horny viewers have suggested, but definitely riveting.
Yoo: Shooting 100 percent from the field with a PER above 35.
Sayles: … able to channel his comedic gifts into a pretty good dramatic performance. His work here was reminiscent of his work in his prestige play, Punch-Drunk Love, but it was more reserved and in a lot of ways better.
5. What is the most New York thing that happens in Uncut Gems?
Baker: Interacting with a gatekeeping receptionist who openly hates your guts but also has a point.
Uggetti: Having spent only three months of my life in New York City a few years ago, I don’t feel authorized to go with anything other than what I know: Sandler and Co. shitting on James Dolan.
Gruttadaro: I NEVER RESURFACED ANYTHING. (Seriously, though: A bookie finding out he’s not being paid by hearing that a guy resurfaced his pool is Extreme Long Island Energy and I fucking love it.)
Bereznak: When Howard’s doctor called to give him his colonoscopy results, he was neither annoyed nor particularly alarmed by the commotion Demany was making in the background. That’s a weathered New York gastroenterologist if I ever heard one.
Yoo: Mike Francesa in a restaurant yelling about food and sports was a chef’s kiss moment.
Herman: I’m gonna take “New York” to mean “Jewish” and seize the chance to talk about that seder scene, the best since the Last Supper and the most finely observed case study of shtetl diaspora culture since Transparent. The Safdies understand exactly how Jews’ white privilege (Howard’s rank exploitation of Ethiopian mine workers) intersects with their ethnic identity (a bunch of dudes in yarmulkes pausing their lives of crime to gather ’round the haggadah), and that understanding yields a film that somehow finds a new way to talk about Judaism through the movies. We may be more overrepresented than any other minority, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t more left to say.
6. What is the most 2012 thing that happens in Uncut Gems?
Baker: The line: “Baron Davis is done. We gotta start fresh. Melo, Amar’e, that’s it” is extremely 2012, HOWEVER the line “Cause Dolan saw how happy everybody fucking was and said ‘how can I ruin that?’” is extremely timeless.
Gruttadaro: An NBA playoff game ending with a final score of 83-80.
Sayles: I’m happy that Ca$h Out and Trinidad James are getting work, even if it’s cameos as themselves designed to remind everyone that the movie is set in 2012.
Uggetti: The Jeremy Lin–Linsanity mention.
Bereznak: The Weeknd being extremely popular.
Herman: Howard’s old-ass iPhone. Remember when they tried to make text bubbles look all 3D?
Yoo: I wish I still had my iPhone 5.
7. Who is the low-key MVP of this movie?
Uggetti: A moment of appreciation for the totally unnecessary but equally perfect Doc Rivers voice-over in the middle of the final game as KG is caressing the opal. I lost it. Incredible. That being said, shout-out Idina Menzel. Her facial reactions to anything Adam Sandler did were perfect, and in some ways, she made it feel OK to not be fully disgusted at him since she was doing an immaculate job of expressing that repulsion herself throughout the movie.
Yoo: JULIA FOX AND IDINA MENZEL ARE BOTH HIGH-KEY MVPS.
Herman: Julia Fox! For a movie with so many big names and unexpected performances, I came away desperate to know what she’ll be up to next, despite not knowing her name until a few hours prior. Credit to the Safdies for making the part more genuine partner in crime than generically hot mistress, but even more to Fox for going toe-to-toe with Sandman.
Sayles: Eric Bogosian, as Howard’s loan-shark brother-in-law, gives a relatively subdued performance—the perfect contrast to Sandler’s flashy, slimy lead.
Baker: The door buzzer magnet! If the door buzzer magnet is having an off performance, the entire franchise pretty much goes immediately into shambles. And when the door buzzer magnet is feeling itself, it saves lives. The door buzzer is James Harden.
Bereznak: Julia Fox! It’s hard to sell a “let’s get back together” butt tattoo, but she really sold it.
Gruttadaro: Julia Fox is the easy (and correct) answer. Runner-up is the Weeknd, who really captured what it was like to be the Weeknd in 2012; I gotta imagine Abel’s been confronted in a bathroom at least once IRL.
8. Is Kevin Garnett’s performance in Uncut Gems the best ever delivered by an NBA player? If not, whose is?
Yoo: Even though KG is playing a heightened version of himself, his performance still had the most range of any basketball player. I’ll put his performance slightly ahead of LeBron in Trainwreck and Ray Allen in He Got Game.
Uggetti: Uh, yes. He not only blends perfectly into the surreal plot, but also feels wholly himself throughout the movie. I also love that there were no scenes with him playing basketball besides the games on TV. They truly let him shine and he did, which made me realize that he should have done Space Jam 2.
Herman: I must decline to answer this question until the release of Space Jam 2.
Baker: Yes, but the clear no. 2 is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Troop Beverly Hills.
Bereznak: I won’t even try to pretend that I’ve seen every movie performance delivered by an NBA player, but I can tell you this: Garnett was leagues above every athlete in Space Jam, but not quite at the level of LeBron in Trainwreck. Sorry, but LeBron is an extremely solid supporting actor!
Gruttadaro: It’s KG, and I’m not sure it’s even close. You really feel like he needs that gem, and he’s the perfect wingman/sounding board in the scene where Howie makes his final bets. His reactions to this maniac are what make the scene.
Sayles: Yes, probably, but let’s never forget Rick Fox on Party Down.
9. And finally, let’s talk about that ending.
Sayles: It’s the perfect bait-and-switch. I didn’t really enjoy Howard’s character for most of the movie: He was a terrible parent, friend, lover, business partner, etc., and didn’t really offer much to make up for those shortcomings. But through the strength of Sandler’s performance and the Safdie brothers’ directing, you find yourself rooting for him at the end. And just when it looks like he’s finally going to win and all of his harebrained scheming is going to pay off, he’s done in by the one person who didn’t have to put up with all of his bullshit.
Baker: I once covered a Stanley Cup final game in which the Bruins, down 3-2 in the series and up 2-1 in Game 6, were just over a minute away from forcing a Game 7. Instead the Blackhawks scored twice in the span of 17 seconds to win the Cup on the road in the final minute, right in everyone’s face. I bring this up because the energy in the theater where I saw Uncut Gems was exactly as bewildered and bonkers as it was in TD Garden that night. Man. Poor Eddie. :(
Uggetti: I should have seen it coming, and yet I totally didn’t because I don’t think my brain was fast enough to catch up with everything that was being said or happening, as was the case for most of the movie. This is going to be such a rewarding rewatch—especially trying to decipher all of the jumbled-up opening dialogue in the first scene. Also: I need to know how this affects the Eric Bogosian in New York Extended Universe—will Gil Eavis and Lawrence Boyd still live on in Succession and Billions? Thanks.
Herman: My entire theater breathed a sigh of relief—one I could actually hear after two hours of high-decibel action.
Yoo: See no. 2.
Gruttadaro: Please respect my privacy at this time.