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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 14, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 02
Intriguing Dilemma an emotional letdown
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Intriguing Dilemma an emotional letdown

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

The Dilemma
Opening January 14


Other than his relationship with best friend Nick Brannen (Kevin James), Ronny Valentine (Vince Vaughn) has long had commitment problems. But things are going great right now. The pair is on the verge of winning a major automotive engine design contract from GM, Nick's marriage to Geneva (Winona Ryder) is flying high, and Ronny has kicked his gambling addiction and is in an amazing relationship with award-winning Chicago chef Beth (Jennifer Connelly).

Yet things are not as blissful as they might appear. While trying to find the perfect spot to take the biggest plunge of his life and propose to Beth, what does he see but Geneva cuddling up to some muscled stranger (Channing Tatum)? Now things are falling apart, Ronny's life is spinning out of control as he wrestles with whether or not to tell Nick that his beloved wife is being unfaithful to him.

Looking at the trailers for The Dilemma, you'd never in a million years believe it was directed by Academy Award-winner Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13) and written by Allan Loeb (Things We Lost in the Fire, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps). The ads make it look crass, tasteless, and full of stereotypes and pratfalls, an irredeemable January misfire.

Surprisingly, the second coming of Howard's Ed TV or Loeb's The Switch this is not. If anything, The Dilemma goes out of its way to try and be a thoughtful, introspective, and character-driven comedic drama about friendships and relationships that goes far deeper than I first suspected. In other words, this isn't Wedding Crashers meets Couple's Retreat, and much like the woefully underrated The Break-Up, this is a decidedly adult foray into what it means to be a couple and why sticking together doesn't always make you happy.

Ronny may be a slob, but his heart is in the right place, and his friendship for Nick is refreshingly without question, making his moral dilemma resonate. I actually felt for this guy for much of the picture and wanted him to do the right thing by his friend but to do it in a way that wouldn't completely break his heart in two. It's a complicated character who isn't always right and doesn't always do the things that he should, and as such his lows are just as important to the ultimate outcome as his highs are.

The problem is the movie never has a good idea of exactly what it is or where it wants to go. It reminded me in many ways of Howard's 1986 automotive comedy Gung Ho. Like that movie, this tries its best to balance a very human drama with lots of silliness and slapstick. But the two elements never combine in a satisfying way, making the movie an uneven jumble that doesn't emotionally connect even though the central storyline itself does indeed reverberate bits of intimate truth.

It does not help that the women are treated deplorably, and if they weren't portrayed by Connelly and Ryder I'd be so vitriolic I think my head would explode. But while both actresses go out of their way to try and make their characters compelling, Loeb's script undercuts them at every turn. While attempts are made to make sure and show Geneva isn't completely at fault for the disastrous turn her marriage has taken, the shrewish ways in which she is depicted come very close to canceling those plot points out. As for Beth, the things Ronny does to her and the way she reacts to them had my jaw hitting the floor, and their final scene together is so patently unbelievable and false it ruined nearly all the stored goodwill the picture had accrued up until that point.

All of this makes The Dilemma a very odd creature. Part of me wants to give Howard, Loeb, and all the rest a hand for trying to craft something Ingmar Bergman or John Cassavettes-like in nature while setting it to a Preston Sturges or Billy Wilder-like beat. I appreciate that the movie isn't afraid to go to some very dark places and ask serious questions about relationships and friendships.

But it's just way too uneven, too masochistically sexist and startlingly homophobic for the good to outweigh the bad. It is a movie I can appreciate for the attempt, but roast over the coals thanks to its execution. Howard tries to get back to his character-driven comedy roots, endeavoring to change things up after two Dan Brown adaptations and a very dark (and very good) Western that people refused to appreciate. That's great, and I applaud him for that, but just because I do doesn't mean The Dilemma is cause for celebration. It isn't, not by a long shot, and while I'm thankful for the attempt, the final product isn't that much better than those odious trailers have been hinting at for months.

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