I know Manohla to a certain extent and I know what it’s like to to write for the Times, and one of the basic rules is “always project a reasonable and moderate attitude…don’t allow feelings, particularly negative feelings, to overly influence your views or prose.” So when Manohla writes that Gems is “fun”, she’s trying to sound like a good sport and a fair-minded cineaste. Because her primary reaction, trust me, was basically “Jesus H. Christ, give me a fucking break already!” Distill that down into measured Times prose, and it comes out as “Uncut Gems is wearying and at times annoying.”
Posted by yours truly on 9.19.19: “Uncut Gems is a full-barrelled, deep dive into the realm of a manic, crazy-fuck gambler (Adam Sandler), and yes, it ‘feels like being locked inside the pinwheeling brain of a lunatic for more than two hours,” as Peter Debruge wrote. And guess what? It’ll make your head explode and drive you fucking nuts. By the time it’s over you’ll be drooling and jabbering and gasping for air.”
Manohla again: “It’s easier to admire than to love, and I hate the ending, but the Safdies clearly like working your nerves.”
Really, Manohla? I loved the ending! I’m not going to say what happens, but it’s the one thing in the film that made me go “yes!” and “thank God!”
Another Manohla excerpt: “The dusty, enigmatic opener in Uncut Gems drolly echoes the start of The Exorcist (’73), where a priest at an archaeological dig in Iraq unearths the demonic relic that sets off the ensuing horror, the possession and spewing vomit. The magical discovery here is made by two Ethiopian miners, who sneak away from the bedlam to dig out a huge black opal that soon ends up in [Sandler’s] possession, though not for long.”
After reading this I was inspired to re-watch the Exorcist‘s Irag prologue. The craft levels alone — photography, editing, dusty atmosphere — are at least 16 or 17 times better than the opening of Uncut Gems. The simple truth is that early ’70s William Friedkin kicks the pipsqueak, nickle-and-dime asses of both Safdies…forget about it. Sandler and others have affectionately called the Safdies “crazy.” Well, so was Friedkin during his heyday, but he was also a craftsman of a much higher order.