Adam Sandler’s career is the epitome of the phrase “love it or hate it.” On the one hand, this was a guy went from SNL to his claim to fame with movies like “Happy Gilmore”, “Billy Madison”, and “Big Daddy”. On the other hand, he’s been in garbage like “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry”, “Jack and Jill”, and “Pixels”. With a spotty record like Sandler’s had in the last couple decade, it makes one think, will critics praise the once beloved SNL alum, when it’s all said and done? Well with this little gem, the answer just might be yes.
Sandler plays Howard Ratner, the owner of a jewelry store with a gambling addiction. His marriage to his wife, Dinah (Idina Menzel) is on the rocks, he’s having an affair with employee Julia (Julia Fox), and is in debt with his brother-in-law Arno (Eric Bogosian). One day, Celtics star Kevin Garnett comes into Howard’s store and is drawn to a rare opal Howard got from Ethiopia. After taking the opal for a night and playing well, he’s convinced that the opal brings him good luck, which jeopardizes an auction where Howard planned on selling it at. Throughout the film, Howard gets himself in more trouble as he keeps upping the stakes in his gambles.
The cast does an interesting job. Adam Sandler’s character proves that likability is not a necessary to make a good character. Howard is mercurial, going from trying to be a smooth hustler to being desperate and cloying for affection and for things to go his way. But while there are moments that leave a bitter taste in the mouth, it’s interesting to see how far Sandler’s character will go to get the money and rush he needs. Idina Menzel also does an amazing job and it was interesting to see how well she can do when given a serious role. Eric Bogosian is not only an interesting character with his calm demeanor on the verge of cracking, but also a relief when Howard’s at his worst. Kevin Garnett is solid in this film and acts as a good straight man to Howard’s addict.
Both the story and cinematography are immersive. Watching Sandler pushing for the next rush is equal parts exhilarating and exhausting. And despite some moments that lag, the movie always leaves me on edge. The cinematography accentuates the story and adds a feeling of claustrophobia as we follow Sandler’s character. There’s a pivotal scene where Sandler’s checking the old apartment of his mistress and the empty apartment is contrasted with the close-up camera shot on Sandler looking around the area. There’s another scene when Sandler tries to keep money away from loan sharks and has to chuck it through the window to the next office over and it’s where the movie becomes more of a nail biter.
One of the best things about movie discourse on the internet is that people can and will be proven wrong. And in the case of this movie, I’m hoping I was wrong to scoff at Adam Sandler movies. The story is compelling and made more immersive with the cinematography. And despite having some of the makings of a typical Sandler character, Howard Ratner is compelling and has some depth to him. Hopefully, this will be the first of a new stage of quality work from the Happy Madison founder.