Men­zel is fierce in ‘Un­cut Gems’

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - ENTERTAINM­ENT - By Akiva Got­tlieb

Id­ina Men­zel’s pub­lic per­sona is de­fined by her star­ring role in a block­buster chil­dren’s fran­chise (the “Frozen” movies), a Tony Award-win­ning per­for­mance in Broad­way’s “Wicked” and a Christ­mas al­bum or two, so it’s more than a lit­tle jar­ring to see her show up as Di­nah, Adam San­dler’s es­tranged wife, in Josh and Benny Safdie’s high-ten­sion un­der­world thriller “Un­cut Gems.”

In just a hand­ful of scenes with San­dler’s rak­ish, charm­ingly du­plic­i­tous wheeler-dealer, Men­zel gen­er­ates se­ri­ous emo­tional heat, up­ping the stakes of an al­ready taut street-level drama.

“I just so yearned to be part of some­thing that was dif­fer­ent from what peo­ple ex­pected for me,” Men­zel says. “I re­ally feel like I haven’t had the op­por­tu­nity to show that kind of range.”

The Safdie broth­ers saw her in Joshua Har­mon’s off-Broad­way dark com­edy “Sk­intight” and dis­cov­ered that she might make sense as a fierce, self-pos­sessed, well-heeled Long Is­land McMan­sion­ite.

She grew up lower mid­dle class in Syos­set, on Long Is­land, and says she rec­og­nizes Di­nah as an “East Coast Jewish girl” like her­self.

“Any­one who knows me knows that it’s just where I live, lit­er­ally and metaphor­i­cally. I know that char­ac­ter, and I know many women like her. And

“It’s a world I know and feel com­fort­able in.” — Id­ina Men­zel, on the mi­lieu in “Un­cut Gems”

I’ve prob­a­bly been known to act like her once in a while, af­ter maybe a cou­ple of beers late at night.”

Though Di­nah is largely ab­sent from the main set­ting of “Un­cut Gems,” which takes place in and around Man­hat­tan’s Di­a­mond District, Men­zel said that mi­lieu also felt fa­mil­iar.

“My fa­ther was a pa­jama sales­man, so he was in the Gar­ment District, just a cou­ple blocks from the Di­a­mond District.” She’d go visit him at work as a lit­tle girl and go to the diner with him and his friends. “It’s a world I know and feel com­fort­able in.”

The Safdie broth­ers’ films are marked by a doc­u­men­tary-style re­al­ism that couldn’t be fur­ther from the sto­ry­board­ing and care­ful script­ing be­hind a mass-mar­ket an­i­mated film like “Frozen.” Men­zel says that she was elec­tri­fied by the Safdies’ ap­proach, with its fast pace and al­lowance for im­pro­vi­sa­tion, and refers to “the fre­netic, beau­ti­ful chaos that they cre­ate.”

But she pushes back against the idea that “Un­cut Gems” posed a new kind of chal­lenge.

“Look, I’ve been sing­ing pro­fes­sion­ally since I was 15 years old,” Men­zel says. “I guess I have tough skin. I know how to get up in front of an au­di­ence where no­body gives a … and do my job. And then be­ing a crea­ture of the theater and know­ing that ev­ery night is dif­fer­ent and to wel­come mis­takes — I’m com­fort­able in that en­vi­ron­ment. I like spon­tane­ity.”


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