There has long been a tension in the career of Adam Sandler, between the successful comedies he stars in for his own production company and the more serious work he has done for outside filmmakers including James L. Brooks, Noah Baumbach and Paul Thomas Anderson.
Earlier this year his film “Murder Mystery,” co-starring Jennifer Aniston, inspired Netflix to issue a press release that it had the biggest opening weekend for a film on the streaming platform. Now, Sandler has been earning many of the best reviews of his career for “Uncut Gems,” which will be released in December by A24.
Directed by Josh and Benny Safdie, “Uncut Gems” had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival before moving on to the Toronto International Film Festival. In the film Sandler plays Howard Ratner, who runs a jewelry store in New York City’s diamond district that caters to athletes, musicians and celebrities looking for unusual bling. Howard is so excited when pro basketball player Kevin Garnett — in a remarkable performance as himself — comes into the shop that he shows Garnett a just-arrived rare rock full of unprocessed gems.
The film has a relentless energy; Sandler’s performance as Howard is full of anxiety and rage, sadness, confusion and an unstoppable belief that a big win is always right around the corner. And the work has propelled the actor into the awards season conversation.
“I feel great that all the hard work we all did is looked at in a positive way,” Sandler said recently from the L.A. Times Studio in Toronto, sitting alongside the Safdies and Garnett. “It’s very exciting, it really is. It’s exciting for me as a guy who has been doing it a long time to do a different thing, use a different muscle.”
Gesturing to the Safdie brothers, Sandler added, “But mostly I am just excited that these guys are getting the recognition they deserve. They’re incredible guys. Hardest working, most focused. And they’re so young and they have so much ahead of them.”
Garnett called making the film a “surreal opportunity” and credited his performance to Sandler’s assistance and support, saying, “It was really Adam, making you comfortable, him having patience with you, him adjusting to you, these were all things I was recognizing. I thought I was messing up, he fixed it and it felt like conversation. ... That’s greatness, to be able to make somebody else better than when they started.”