As a member of Bafta, I get sent about 75 ‘screeners’ during the awards season, which is always a treat at the end of the year. I was particularly excited about it this time because of the makeshift home cinema I’ve set up in our playroom. I had fantasies of sitting in there with Caroline and the four kids, munching popcorn as we worked our way through the Bafta hopefuls.
However, getting everyone to agree on a film to watch is always tricky in the Young household. On Christmas Eve, my recommendation was a French animated feature called I Lost My Body, which charts the adventures of a hand that’s become separated from its owner. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a critics’ score of 97 percent and is described as follows: ‘Beautifully animated and utterly unique, I Lost My Body takes audiences on a singularly strange journey whose unexpected contours leads to a wholly satisfying destination.’
‘Boring,’ said Ludo, my 14-year-old, and suggested John Wick: Chapter 3. Not a bad shout, but too lowbrow to be included in this year’s bundle of screeners. The same goes for 11-year-old Charlie’s suggestions: Spider-Man: Far From Home, Midway and The Lego Movie 2. (That last one was a genuine oversight, by the way. As a one-time screenwriter, I think the writers of The Lego Movie 2 — Phil Lord, Christopher Miller and Matthew Fogel — deserve a Bafta nomination for Best Original Screenplay.) In the end, we did what we’ve done on December 24 for the past eight years and watched Arthur Christmas.
The following day I tried again and this time managed to persuade everyone to watch one of the screeners: Uncut Gems starring Adam Sandler. All three boys, including 12-year-old Freddie, were won over by the presence of Sandler, and 16-year-old Sasha agreed because it’s set in New York, where she’d like to live. Caroline and I were attracted to the fact that it’s a crime thriller and not a romantic comedy, which is Sandler’s usual fare. Admittedly, it’s rated 18 so includes some scenes not suitable for children. But it takes a lot to disturb my kids — one of Charlie’s favorite films is The Shining. The thing to worry about was whether Caroline was likely to be shocked by any of it. She is stricter than me about what the children are allowed to watch.
Uncut Gems starts promisingly enough, with a black opal being found in a mine in Ethiopia, and then switches to New York where we’re introduced to Howard Ratner (Sandler), a middle-aged jewelry shop owner whose life is spinning out of control. He’s a compulsive gambler, as well as an adulterer, who owes his gangster brother-in-law $100,000. The whole film is enveloped by a fog of strung-out anxiety, with Ratner about to get his comeuppance, but then the opal arrives in a crate of frozen fish and this turns out to be his lifeline. If he can sell it for close to what it’s worth — more than $1 million, apparently — he can pay off his debts, divorce his wife and move in with his mistress.
I was quite enjoying Uncut Gems, but like Ratner becoming worried that my domestic situation was about to go tits-up. Sure enough, about 45 minutes in, Ratner is cornered by his brother-in-law and two goons, forced to undress at gunpoint, then locked in the boot of his Mercedes. Before we could discover what happened next, Caroline leapt up and said: ‘Right, that’s it. We’re not watching this. It’s completely inappropriate.’ The children and I sat there, too stunned to respond, as the film played out projected on to Caroline’s head and shoulders. We heard a gunshot, then a fountain of blood exploded out of her left temple. We started giggling.
‘STOP IT — NOW,’ she screamed, but that was easier said than done because turning off the projector or DVD player involved maneuvering my way behind the sofa and chairs I’d lined up. I tried to push Ludo’s chair to one side, at which point he tumbled on to the floor, spilling popcorn everywhere. ‘You’re so annoying,’ said Caroline and I tutted in agreement, telling Ludo to get the brush and dustpan. ‘I MEAN YOU,’ she said.
All told, Uncut Gems was not a success, although Ludo and I watched the rest of it when everyone had gone to bed. Next year I’m going to play it safe and choose the latest Disney blockbuster. Incidentally, we did find the perfect family film on Boxing Day: Le Mans 66. That’s my second favorite film of the past year, after Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. I wouldn’t recommend showing that to your kids either.