Romancing The Uncut Gems

Sunday morning brings box office results, and today’s big story involves the Safdie Brothers (and A24’s) Uncut Gems, which has netted the biggest per screen average of the year in that company’s history, totaling somewhere in the neighborhood of $525,000 for the five screens it premiered on. And that’s big. Real big.

But the bigger story? That Uncut Gems may land in the same category as the song Ghostbusters when all is said and done.

Why?

Well, do you remember that infamous story about how Ray Parker, Jr., in a rush to deliver a catchy song for the comedy blockbuster Ghostbusters, ended up doing just that…but what he’d actually done was deliver a thinly veiled carbon copy of Huey Lewis & the News’ I Want a New Drug? Yes, his song seemingly build upon themes and actual musical progressions as the News’ song, and it resulted in a court case that saw Huey Lewis winning the case. To this day every time someone utters “Who Ya Gonna Call?” he’s getting a check. Because Ray Parker Jr., didn’t just create a catchy tune. He copied one.

The question is…is Uncut Gems a carbon copy of another movie? Did the long in-development project (Sandler says he was contacted about doing the film almost ten years ago) take some of its key themes and plot points from another movie? When all the box office receipts come in for A24 and the Safdie Brothers, will they be paying someone else a portion of the proceeds? Is Robert Zemeckis, the director of Romancing the Stone, gonna be getting an uncut gem of his own?

Or more specifically…to cut to the point…is Uncut Gems just a copy of the classic 1984 blockbuster Romancing the Stone?

Well, as to not be the Mitch McConnell of film journalism, without giving Uncut Gems its own due process; instead I’d like to point out the similarities and let you, the Senate of the Film World, to make your own decision.

So let’s start. Let’s break it down.

Romancing the Stone takes place in New York City in 1984, and follows Joan Wilder — a successful (but lonely) woman who is sent a mysterious package from a far away country that has a map that will lead her to a gem that has immeasurable value.

Uncut Gems takes place in New York City in 2012, and follows Howard Ratner – a successful (but lonely) man who is sent a mysterious package from a far away country that is a gem that has immeasurable value.

In Romancing the Stone, Joan Wilder is in danger. She is being pursued by an evil man called Zolo, a violent man who ransacked her apartment looking for this map, and following her everywhere she goes (including to Cartagena) in an attempt to hurt or kill her, and secure the map and gem.

In Uncut Gems, Howard is in danger. He is being pursued by two men, working for Arno, who follow him everywhere he goes (including to his child’s school performance) in an attempt to hurt or kill him, and secure the gem or the money associated with its value.

Did you know that if you were to translate the name Zolo into Ethiopian (the gem in Uncut Gems comes from Ethiopia), it loosely comes back as Arlo? Which isn’t too far off from Arno, the villain after Howard and his money in the Safdie’s film?

I bet you didn’t.

In Romancing the Stone, Joan cannot count on help from her sister or her agent, but instead aligns with Jack — an attractive, swashbuckling man who partners up with her in order to obtain the gem, keep it away from all who are trying to get it, and falling in love in the process.

In Uncut Gems, Howard cannot count on help from his wife or even his family members, but instead aligns with Julia, an attractive worker from his jewelry store who partners up with him in order to take the money from the gem’s sale to NBA’er Kevin Garnett, and turn it into an even bigger windfall in Vegas. They realize they are truly in love throughout the process.

In Romancing the Stone, there are others who want the gem; other than Zolo. Zolo wants it for his own reasons, but Ira (and his boss) want it for their own selfish reasons as well.

In Uncut Gems, aside from Arno and his men wanting their own treasure/money from Howard, it’s NBA star Kevin Garnett who also wants the gem, believing there’s inherent value in it for him as well. At times he has kept the gem to himself, and doesn’t want to give it back to Howard.

There is one gem. It’s valuable. Many people want it. Everyone’s chasing the main protagonist to get it. What movie am I describing?

Well, both.

In Romancing the Stone, an ending climax results in a shootout that causes Zolo to die. In Uncut Gems, an ending climax results in a shootout that causes Arno to die. In Romancing the Stone, there is a moment when Joan and Jack find themselves arguing about their relationship over the course of a weekend before the final third act (when Jack’s intentions don’t match Joan’s); in Uncut Gems there is a moment when Howard and Julia find themselves arguing over the musical artist The Weeknd — when their intentions also don’t match up about their relationship.

Romancing the Stone is a constant chase, with multiple parties all after the stone. A literal stone that is worth immeasurable value to all involved. Uncut Gems is exactly that — a chase, with all parties after the stone, the value tied to it, and the money that can be generated from it.

In Romancing the Stone, Joan can’t have the man she believes she wants (the character in her book), so she ends up with a real life version of it in Jack. In Uncut Gems, Howard can’t have his wife back in his life, so he ends up with Julia instead. Both leads, living an unsatisfying life in New York City, are faced with an adventure tied to a stone, one which many parties are after, which represents the risk of death or dismemberment, and they can only get out of their situation with he help of a sexy, opposite-sex partner, who ends up doing the heavy lifting to save them in the end.

In Romancing the Stone, the person Joan is in the beginning…has died. She no longer exists as a result of the adventure she’s just been on. And in the end of Uncut Gems, Howard has also died. Literally.

Figuratively, it is the exact same thing.

I could go on and on and on. The similarities are too numerous to outline here. But the bottom line is that Uncut Gems is clearly cut from the same cloth as Romancing the Stone. The fact that even the title of Uncut Gems presents a very obvious homage to Romancing the Stone is also quite stunning, and surprising, given the fact that the Safdie’s clearly drew inspiration in many ways from the Robert Zemeckis film.

It’s just surprising they’d go so far as to call it out as such.

Then again, the character Arno from Uncut Gems? If you look at the title Romancing the Stone, you can actually SPELL the character name Arno out of those letters. Howard Ratner? The Adam Sandler Character? You can also spell Ratner from the title Romancing the Stone.

Coincidence? Or a sly way for the Safdie’s to tell you, much like Kubrick laid his clues in The Shining about the moon landing being faked by NASA, that they’ve been modeling this movie after the 1984 success story ever since they started developing their baby?

Food for thought.

You know, back when Ghostbusters came out, people demanded that the masses leave Ray Parker, Jr. alone. There was no way he could have been listening to I Want a New Drug while he wrote the theme song for Ghostbusters. Why would someone so talented need to do something so two-faced?

There’s no way that the Safdie Brothers could have been watching Romancing the Stone over the years that they came up with Uncut Gems.

Or could they have? Did they?

Like Mitch McConnell, all I’m here to do is present the facts, and let the Senate make their own decision from the available information in the public record.

But if you ask me?

I think I’ve already made up my mind.

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