REVIEW: The Dilemma [2011]

Score: 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 111 minutes | Release Date: January 14th, 2011 (USA)
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director(s): Ron Howard
Writer(s): Allan Loeb

“… took more virgins than Francis Albert Sinatra”

Sometimes all you need is a little Vince Vaughn. Don’t even ask how much I dreaded checking out The Dilemma despite him, due to the directed by Ron Howard label. I like the guy, don’t get me wrong, but his by-the-books Dan Brown adaptations were sorely lacking in cinematic ingenuity, (I cringe at the fact he’s handling The Dark Tower Series as a result), and thus a seemingly straight forward comedy wasn’t looking too palatable. But sometimes a director can excel by allowing his actors to take over and give the audience entertainment. I truly haven’t seen Vaughn this good since probably Wedding Crashers—going on rants, getting all worked up with his word vomit excellence, all while keeping a grounded foot in real emotion. Because that is what works with Allan Loeb’s script, (a guy I’m not too fond of either besides his died-too-young series “New Amsterdam” and Wall Street 2); above the broader humor and hyperkinetic antics of its star, countered by the ulcer-inducing stress we love from Kevin James, there is an authenticity to the trial and tribulation of relationships.

And it’s not just the couplings I’m talking about, but also the tag team BFFs since Ball State of the leads and, to a lesser extent, the long-standing friendship of Vaughn (Ronny) and Winona Ryder (Geneva), who, as the trailers show, is James’s (Nick) cheating wife. The ‘dilemma’ of the title doesn’t end with how ‘man code’ is interpreted for sharing infidelity facts, there is a ton of stuff happening in a powder-keg of action for the central foursome—rounded out by Vaughn’s girlfriend Beth, played by Jennifer Connelly. Ronny is recently recovered from gambling problems and, with Beth, has finally gotten back to a place of love, honesty, and fun. So, you can imagine the gimmick utilized to subvert his attempts at keeping the discovered affair a secret—they all assume he’s back at the casinos. But, not only is he dealing with the past, he and Nick are on commission to blow Chrysler away with an electric engine that revs like an old GT, as well as the idea of proposing to his girl going from passing thought to full on against the clock mode. Vince Vaughn characters can’t deal with stagnancy, so he’s definitely got quite the party of neuroses going on in his head.

Not to belittle the actual plot of the film, since it does delve into serious issues like trust, and the fine line between right and wrong, but it really is simply about a man who knows his best friend’s wife is cheating on him. It’s okay, though, since everything else is happening to add weight, flesh the characters out, and make it real. What’s appealing about Vaughn and James is that they aren’t your usual leading men. They succeed on humor and become relatable to the Average Joe on the street visiting the multiplex for an entertaining two hours. As far as having a pair of women of Connelly and Ryder’s caliber, well, we can all dream. And, actually, you could begin to wonder what these schlubs are doing by sabotaging their good fortune with flaking out on commitment and/or working too hard and avoiding home. Geneva’s affair may be the elephant in the room as far as transgressions go, but no one involved is completely innocent. All four have skeletons in their closets, exposed flaws, and despite it all, love for one another. It’s reconciling everything that commences the repression and distrust.

Above all the serious stuff, however, is Vaughn’s manic maneuvering as the fast-talking salesman for his buddy James—the brains of the engine operation. They complement each other perfectly, creating an unbeatable team of friends and business partners. I never really watched James’s “King of Queens”, so I’m not too familiar with him, but I will admit to being pleasantly surprised here. He has a talent for self-deprecating humor and enough chops to realistically portray the darker sides of the human condition. The straight man to Vaughn’s insanity, he has his work cut out for him since Vince’s Ronny is quite the character, made worse by the secrets he is made to hold in. Priceless one-liners—most of which were probably improvised—abound as usual, like asking random strangers how to handle his dilemma through analogies with basketball and “Jerry Springer”. And, as impeccable as his delivery always is, the reaction shots work wonders too, especially the answers to his hypotheticals. Add in Howard’s splicing of live re-enactments for his blatant lies, constantly changing as his story evolves, and you won’t be able to help yourself from chuckling.

Connelly and Ryder shouldn’t be dismissed, though. Their inclusion is crucial to the events taking place, as is their job to be the rock in their relationships, whether succeeding or failing at the task. Beth is the ideal woman—a great sense of humor, endless compassion, a rising star in her field, and mad ping-pong skills—while Geneva is the neglected wife who obviously was the epitome of perfection before the pair drifted apart. Both are great, although I’ll admit it took a bit before I warmed to Ryder, initially seeming clunky in her performance until a fake tears moment cements her skill around the mid-point. She also shows some nice chemistry with young beau Zip, a fantastic turn by Channing Tatum. Say what you will about the guy, he has something and is comedic gold as the overly sensitive, tattooed, fish loving punk. Heck, even Queen Latifah kills her bit part as the liaison between Chrysler and the boys—her rhetoric as uncomfortably hilarious to the characters onscreen as it is to us watching. I have to say, Ron Howard has a crowd-pleaser on his hands. I just hope he’ll find the time to make more comedies without taking another decade before the next.

[1] (L to R) Geneva (WINONA RYDER), Nick (KEVIN JAMES), Beth (JENNIFER CONNELLY) and Ronny (VINCE VAUGHN) in a comedy about a man who finds out that what you don’t say to a friend is just as important as what you do–“The Dilemma”. Photo Credit: Chuck Hodes Copyright: © 2011 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
[2] Zip (CHANNING TATUM) welcomes Ronny into his home in a comedy about a man who finds out that what you don’t say to a friend is just as important as what you do–“The Dilemma”. Photo Credit: Chuck Hodes Copyright: © 2011 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
[3] Winona Ryder stars as Geneva and Kevin James stars as Nick Brannen in Universal Pictures’ The Dilemma (2011)

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