The Dilemma (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
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The Dilemma (2011)

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Andrew DISLIKEWas Vince Vaughn ever really that interesting an actor?  I hazily recall a period around Clay Pigeons when it seemed like he could play a devil with a smile not unlike Jack Nicholson without leeching off of Jackie's well-worn persona.  But I struggled for the entire run-time of The Dilemma to try and figure out something interesting to say about his performance.  The best I can come up with is "staggeringly competent".

Which, sadly, is all I can really say about the rest of the movie.  It's at odds with itself, a romantic comedy that wants to give us the chuckles and reassurances of an early 80's John Cusack movie but also wants to indulge in the dark side of relationships.  This leads to a number of strangely noir-ish angles and sub-plots that are, at times, interesting and then abandons it all for drab parallel plots involving auto deals and hockey games.

The basic plot involves business partners Ronny (Vince Vaughn) and Nick (Kevin James).  They've been friends for years and frequently double date with Nick's wife Geneva (Winona Ryder) and Ronny's current girlfriend Beth (Jennifer Connelly).  After much prodding from Geneva, Ronny decides to pop the question to Beth and happens to pick a spot where Geneva and a tattooed hunk are meeting for a little tet-a-tet.  Ronny struggles with how, when, and if he's going to tell Nick while a business deal that Ronny and Nick are involved in hangs onto the plot like a cancerous tumor.

I don't have the will-power to prevent the word "bro" from entering my brain 80 times here.

You see, Ronny can't tell Nick about the deal because he needs Nick focused to work on an electric car to showcase to potential investors.  Ronny also can't tell Nick because he spilled the beans to Geneva too soon and now she plans on putting Ronny on the spot if he even tries to say anything.  The first contrivance is pretty stupid, and plays into a plot that wastes Queen Latifah (and frequent readers know how much I love her) into a few precious scenes to waste time.  The second plays out interestingly and points in a direction I wish the film had gone in.

The basic idea is one that I have been in support of for a very long time - the only people that can safely comment on anyone else's relationship are the people involved in that relationship.  Even with the details of Geneva's infidelity, there are things involving Nick that Ronny doesn't appear ready to accept or even discuss that would color his gung-ho willingness to jump to his friends aid.  Of course, this ends up being at odds with the slapstick portion of this comedy and what few suspicions arise about his behavior are quickly quelled by one of the many highs in this manic-depressive script.

When the film slows down to take a look at how little we really know about the other's relationship, it's pretty interesting.  True there's a too on-the-nose exchange of dialogue at the beginning that lays out the themes a little to bluntly.  It's all thanks to Winona Ryder and a little assistance from the script, that any of this intrigue is possible.  The way she teasingly drops stories, angrily tries to defend herself, and ultimately threatens Ronny suggests a lot more than the movie is ready to reveal.  I mean, it's Kevin James, you don't hire him to have a dark and secret past when you could just have him dance funny and be totally lovable.

Ms. Ryder - effective - and very evil.

Frequent tone switches aside, the rest of the film is mostly sunk by Vaughn's performance.  He never seems completely engaged and what little energy he can muster for the role gets wasted in an embarrassing tussle with poison plants.  Then there's his strange pairing with Jennifer Connelly, which raises more of the same questions about her.  I admired her bravery in Requiem For A Dream and her darkly fun performance in Little Children, but here she attacks the role of Beth with the same kind of seriousness that she brought to House of Sand and Fog.

The Dilemma is a mess that could have gone in an interesting direction.  Ironically, a lot less focus on the "fun" elements of the film would have made the whole experience a whole lot more palatable.  It's a strange world and people will respond to a variety of things.  Maybe stuffing our romantic comedies with a little less cotton candy is just what we need.

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The Dilemma (2011)

Directed by Ron Howard.
Screenplay by Allan Loeb.
Starring Vince Vaughn, Kevin James,  Jennifer Connelly and Winona Ryder.

Posted by Andrew

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