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Always String the Audience Along Before Being Honest

Movie Review: The Dilemma (2011)
A man discovers that his best friend’s wife is having an affair.
Spoilers: none

In The Dilemma, “Ronny” (Vince Vaughn) and “Nick” (Kevin James) have been best friends since college. Ronny’s girlfriend, “Beth” (Jennifer Connelly) and Nick’s wife “Geneva” (Winona Ryder) lead seemingly transparent and interactive lives. Both men are partners in a successful auto design business. Their families are close, but the image of what was thought to be an inseparable union is shattered for Ronny when he discovers that Geneva is unfaithful to Nick.

From there, Ronny begins to spiral into an internalized angst on how to break the news to an already stressed-out and ulcer-prone Nick who frequents an Asian massage parlor just to keep sane. With a huge business deal hanging over their heads with the Chrysler Corporation, the added stress begins to take Ronny over the edge as he finds Geneva with her oh-so-sensitive partner in adultery, “Zip” (Channing Tatum).

The snappy chemistry between Vaughn and James is a malleable move forward for a movie about little more than that clichéd notion of a friend who keeps getting misaligned from telling the truth (or otherwise finding every reason not to), much to the frustration of the audience. There is the expected Kevin James-style comedy that involves plenty of awkwardness, and yes, another low blood sugar/panic attack-prone character in the person of Nick.

Business-wise, nearly everything is an effort expressed in football analogies and showy PowerPoint presentations, with Ronny and Nick both present to compliment each other’s personalities. The two get extra help with their business proposition in “Susan Warner” (Queen Latifah) with her characteristically high-energy vibe and shocking tendency for using risqué analogies. 

Lackluster and void of laughs, The Dilemma boasts value for all the wrong reasons. It is constructed like a serious relationship drama, but is wrongly billed as a comedy. The plot being built like a story about fidelity and honesty – but tagged with mostly placid humor – it leaves no room for an ideal audience, and not much room for an audience seeking a down-to-earth romance/comedy romp; it’s serious enough for a drama, but not funny enough to kick back in with humor. It does, on the other hand, have one of the most appreciably awkward toast speeches in the whole history of movies.

While its fall from comedic grace isn’t far, it will fall out of favor with most—but not until it drags the audience along to its distant but inevitable conclusion, practically torturing those few out there who really eat up what it has to offer.

Ron Howard, that directorial genius who brought us Frost/Nixon (2008), Cinderella Man (2005), and A Beautiful Mind (2001) brings us The Dilemma, a work that is, sadly, not one of his greater achievements; but while that may be true, we do not have a “What were you thinking?” moment on Howard. His delicious ability to fortify every twist and turn with a plush and thought-out story is still evident. It just isn’t funny.  


Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rated: PG-13 (for sexual themes, drug use, and some violence)
Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Vince Vaughn “Ronny Valentine,” Kevin James “Nick Brannen,” Jennifer Connelly “Beth,” Winona Ryder “Geneva,” Channing Tatum “Zip,” Queen Latifah “Susan Warner,” Amy Morton “Diane Popovich,” Chelcie Ross “Thomas Fern”
Genre: Comedy / Drama


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