Adam Sandler's new movie, Uncut Gems, has a serious seder scene

Uncut Gems opened recently at theaters in the US and will begin streaming on Netflix in Israel on January 31 and is generating major Oscar buzz for Sandler.

44th Toronto International Film Festival (photo credit: REUTERS)
44th Toronto International Film Festival
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Benny and Josh Safdie, brothers of Syrian/Russian Jewish descent who directed the new film Uncut Gems with Adam Sandler, told Variety they strove for authenticity in this dark story of a Diamond District merchant with a gambling habit, including in a Passover Seder scene.
Uncut Gems opened recently at theaters in the US and will begin streaming on Netflix in Israel on January 31. It is generating major Oscar buzz for Sandler.
The Safdie brothers said they knew they wanted to film a scene set at a Jewish holiday, since Sandler’s character, Howard Ratner, like most merchants in New York’s Diamond District, is Jewish. But which holiday depended on the plot. When they cast Kevin Garnett, a retired NBA star who plays a younger version of himself in the film and inspires Ratner to make a very risky bet, they knew they needed a holiday that would coincide with the playoffs, which turned out to be Passover.
Explained Josh: “The fact that the movie takes place around Passover, the holiest of holidays, is so apt. This particular holiday, you’re supposed to derive much meaning from suffering, in a movie about a guy where your hero is enduring and suffering... Once we landed on Passover itself, you start to mine your own personal experiences with Pesach and certain intricacies of thousands of years of tradition connected to this barbaric story. The way Jewish assimilation has happened, you have these xeroxed Haggadas, one person has the nice Haggada. You have the kids’ table because they’re not men yet – when you’re bar mitzvahed, you can sit at the adults’ table.”
He said the highlight of the scene comes as the characters recite the 10 plagues: “The plagues seemed to be most relevant for the film. [Singing the song] ‘Dayenu’ was in high contention. [Producer] Scott Rudin was very adamant. He’s like, ‘We can’t have Idina Menzel [a singer/actress who plays Sander’s wife] in this film and not hear her sing! We need to film Sandler and her singing ‘Dayenu’ together. We need it!’ We have that on camera. We didn’t film the four questions because it seemed too obvious. It would have been boring to hear.”
Benny said it was important for them to capture the feel of a real, American-Jewish Passover gathering: “Even having an afikomen scene. Showing that part, the post-dinner relaxation where everyone is just talking – it’s a strange holiday where you have all of these people talking about suffering and plagues, and you have to be together with family at the same time.”
There was no need for them to explain the holiday to their actors, said Josh: “The only non-Jewish person on camera was Eric Bogosian. Everybody who was partaking in that scene has a long tradition of sitting at Pesach dinners.”
Much of the film was shot on location in and around 47th Street and Sixth Avenue, the epicenter of Manhattan’s Diamond District, and Sandler spent time there to learn about his character’s world. But don’t expect that a lot of the film’s box office will come from the diamond dealers, many of whom are ultra-Orthodox.
The New York Jewish Week visited 47th Street to look into the response to the film, but few had seen it.
“We don’t watch TV. We don’t watch movies,” a woman in a head covering told reporter Steve Lipman.
Another man said, upon hearing it has an R-rating, “It doesn’t sound kosher. I imagine that it’s not a good image.”
Avi Fertig, executive director of the Diamond District Partnership, told the reporter that while he hadn’t seen the movie, he had heard it “was not antagonistic” to the jewelry-merchandising enclave.
The New York Post reported earlier this year that Diamond District storekeepers are experiencing a crisis as millennials prefer to shop for gems online, and that “empty storefronts and booths are multiplying.”
So perhaps it’s not surprising that even though they won’t be seeing the flick, some of the merchants are upbeat about it. “Any publicity is good publicity,” one salesman said.