When is a dilemma not a dilemma?
When the answer is obvious. The driving device behind The Dilemma is that Vince Vaughn is wrestling with the issue of whether or not to tell his best friend that his wife is cheating on him. When considering how tough a call this actually is, I tried to imagine a scenario in which you would NOT tell your best friend this is the case. And so did the filmmakers. Boy, did they ever.
There are roadblocks thrown up at every turn. Should you tell him if they have a really important business deadline and he needs to concentrate? What he’s being unfaithful too? What if his wife is blackmailing you? In the course of a week, Ronny (Vince Vaughn) finds a million different reasons not to tell his best friend Nick (Kevin James) that his wife Geneva (Winona Ryder) is cheating on him with a young stud (Channing Tatum).
The Dilemma starts out as the kind of slapstick comedy you’d expect from the trailer. Vince Vaughn stumbles into poisonous plants and it then burns when he pees. Queen Latifah talks about how his rhetoric gives her “lady wood.” It’s hilarious. Well, not really, but at least it’s trying to be.
I could listen to Queen Latifa spit sexual innuendo all day.
But the movie then keeps taking stranger and stranger turns, and in the end, it’s actually quite a sad story, one that I’m not sure needed to be told. This is just a window view of some very unpleasant people, each with their own pile of flaws, though some are greater than others.
Plot wise, the film is simply what you’d expect after hearing the title and logline. Ronny discovers the secret, and spends the entire duration of the movie conflicted over how to tell his friend. You would think the journey here would be funny, as this is allegedly a comedy, but outside of a few sporadic scenes that try (and fail) to elicit laughs, you just have a very dark movie about unlikable people doing despicable things.
The main focus is on Geneva, the one doing the cheating, but it’s actually her story that gets the least amount of attention for an inexplicable reason. We never learn how she knows this guy, who this guy is, and why he has a massive amount of tattoos, a Mercedes G-Wagon and a penchant to burst out in tears. These would all seem like pretty pivotal questions, but they’re ignored in favor of the plot making itself more and more twisted, and with what little character focus it does dole out, it spotlights Nick and Ronny instead.
Ping pong is a metaphor for marriage. Or it’s just scene filler in a movie that didn’t need to be two hours.
Ronny is a complicated guy. So much so that nothing he does ever makes any sense, and it would require years of therapy to explain his character motivations. He has a gorgeous girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly) who loves him dearly, but he refuses to tell her anything that’s happening for unexplained reasons. His silence drives one of the central plot points of the film, where his hiding of Geneva’s secret blows back on him when his friends and family think he’s taken up his past addiction of gambling again. A plot twist I suppose, but one not based in any sort of logic.
In the end, despite the layers of complications, the reaction is naturally “you should of told me.” And of course he should have, we all knew that after watching the trailer. That wouldn’t have made for a very long movie, but we would have been mercifully spared all the awkwardness contained within this one. It’s not the best sign when the funniest person in your comedy is Channing Tatum, and the actual comedians you’ve hired stand around looking overweight and sad and angry for the duration of the film. If the film was trying to be a drama about the pains of long-term relationships, it might have been wise to skip the fish murdering fight scene or the anniversary dinner toast about the happy couple possibly cheating on each other. These are the bizarre comedic moments you’d expect from a film advertised this way, but when the majority of the film is just awkwardness and pain, these kind of scenes feel out of place.
In addition to being a comedy and a drama, the film is also a mystery, with the big looming question being why the hell would an A-List director like Ron Howard take on a project like this. I’d expect a film like this out of Vaughn and James at this point in their careers, but Ron Howard? The guy was in The Andy Griffith Show, Happy Days and Arrested Development. He at least knows what a comedy is supposed to look like, but there’s barely a trace of one here in The Dilemma.
1.5 out of 5 stars