“The Dilemma” the new film by Ron Howard, seems to be known primarily for the moment in the original trailer that had Vince Vaughn saying that environmentally-friendly cars were gay (later trailers cut the line). It seemed destined to be known for only that line, a signifier of how truly crappy the movies are in the post-Christmas, pre-Summer malaise.
That’s unfortunate, because “The Dilemma” seems to be a smart movie in a stupid movie’s clothing. The movie, a vaguely moral tale of a man who discovers that his best friend’s wife is cheating on him, is not actually all that funny. It is, however, an unexpectedly pointed look at modern marriage and two men approaching the perimeter of middle age.
Vince Vaughn is Ronny, who works in the auto industry with his best friend Nick (Kevin James). He’s a recovering gambling addict, on the cusp of getting a contract with Dodge, and is preparing to propose to his longtime girlfriend Beth (Jennifer Connelly), sealing his transformation as a man settled down. Then he discovers that Nick’s wife Geneva (Winona Ryder) is cheating on him, sending Ronny into a downward spiral.
The movie’s being advertised as a light sex romp, but the movie itself takes a much darker take. If they had marketed the movie as a black comedy (and improved the writing somewhat) Vaughn could have been nominated for his role as the disillusioned and frustrated Ronny. The “Dilemma”, of course, is whether or not to tell his friend, and watching how the situation reflects back on his relationship with Beth is heart-wrenching. His gambling addiction is not played for laughs but actually portrayed as a legitimate, life-wrecking disease. At one point, Beth finds the cash that Ronny is planning to buy her ring with and asks “Why do you have so much cash on you, Ronny?” in a crushingly frightened way that rings absolutely true.
Written by: Allan Loeb
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Winona Ryder
In fact, “The Dilemma” falters the most when it’s trying to be humorous. The “gay” line didn’t offend me because I thought it was homophobic, it offended me because it wasn’t remotely funny. We get jokes about fat kids and jokes about painful urination and jokes about bleeding ulcers. Even Vaughn,’s trademark manic rhythm, which normally could turn the most boring phrase into comic gold, at times seems awkward and listless. Queen Latifah, as a foul-mouthed auto executive, gets the brunt of the bad dialogue- no one should ever have to say the phrase “lady wood”, never mind a Queen. The best comedic moments are given to Zip (Channing Tatum), as Geneva’s oxy-fiend lover. Tatum has surprisingly good timing and physicality. He’s also obscenely good-looking, so maybe I’m a little biased.
The combination of frat-boy comedy and domestic drama comes off as uneven and disorganized by the end. The ending itself is a little too pat, and drops a few loose threads of the story. But for a movie that was supposed to be one big gay joke, it seems suspiciously thoughtful.