Friday, January 14, 2011

The Dilemma

THE DILEMMA (Ron Howard, 2011)

Best friends and business partners Ronny (Vince Vaughn) and Nick (Kevin James) are in the middle of a major project that could make or break their auto design company when Ronny sees Nick’s wife Geneva (Winona Ryder) kissing another man. Ronny knows that Nick is already under a lot of pressure at work, so rather than drop the news on his friend, he attempts to fix the situation by talking to Geneva about it first.

When he confronts her, she threatens to to tell Nick about a one night stand she had with Ronny in college before she met her husband-to-be and lie about Ronny making advances on her for years. Due to the circumstances, Ronny can’t tell his longtime girlfriend Beth (Jennifer Connelly) what he knows, so his secretive behavior makes it appear as though his gambling problems have resurfaced.

Rather than the rollicking comedy that the ads make it out to be, THE DILEMMA is more along the lines of THE BREAK-UP, another dramedy starring Vaughn that took a tougher look at trust in relationships than most of its cinematic brethren do. Although not without laughs, THE DILEMMA seriously examines the movie cliché of swallowing a burning secret and the ill effects suffered from doing so. Consider it a corrective to the hundreds of films in which a simple misunderstanding or problem could be cleared up if one person would simply speak up.

In this case, Ronny doesn’t have an easy choice. Withholding the information is ruining Ronny’s peace of mind and relationship with his girlfriend, but if he tells Nick, particularly at this sensitive point in time, the truth could wreck their friendship and company. Plus, it comes to light that Nick and Geneva’s picture perfect marriage may not be as unblemished as it seems from the outside.

The barbed humor comes in observing the smooth-talking Vaughn take his lumps as he tries to figure out the right thing to do while backed into a corner. THE DILEMMA requires a director willing to indulge the dark comedy to its fullest. One name that style doesn’t bring to mind for the job is Ron Howard, yet that’s who is at the helm. Howard tries to tame the film into becoming more agreeable and leaven the discomfort with good cheer and silliness.

The clash in tones reaches its apex with Ronny’s awkward speech at the anniversary celebration for his girlfriend’s parents. The train wreck of a monologue could have been a terrific summation of the film’s theme, but the harsh and misguided sincerity in it has to be exaggerated to the point that no one would blurt out the things Ronny finds himself saying.

In spite of its commendable aspiration to put a nuanced spin on the value of truth-telling in relationships, THE DILEMMA struggles to be honest with itself as to its sober nature.

Grade: C+

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