THE DILEMMA (2011)
Starring Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Jennifer Connelly, Winona Ryder, Channing Tatum, Queen Latifah, Amy Morton, Chelcie Ross, Eduardo N. Martinez, Rance Howard, Laura Whyte, Grace Rex and Clint Howard.
Screenplay by Allan Loeb.
Directed by Ron Howard.
Distributed by Universal Pictures. 118 minutes. Rated PG-13.
Once upon a time, before he became a respected, Oscar-caliber director, Ron Howard enjoyed making goofy little comedies. In fact, the first two films which he became known specifically as a director – I’m not counting the early B-movies in which he was an actor directing himself such as Grand Theft Auto – were Night Shift with Henry Winkler and a then-unknown Michael Keaton as graveyard shift workers who opened a brothel in a morgue and a love story between a man and a mermaid, Splash with Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah.
Beyond making stars of Keaton and Hanks, the films were naturally funny and light. Then he made Cocoon – a wonderful movie, mind you, but more serious – and ever since he has been of a more artistic bent.
However, after years of working on the heavy likes of A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, Cinderella Man, Frost/Nixon and The DaVinci Code, undoubtedly Howard thought it would be fun to do just a dumb-but-funny romp, the likes of which he hasn’t done since EDtv in 1999.
This brings us to The Dilemma, which is certainly a rather slight addition to Howard’s filmography, but does have some funny bits and just enough drama to make it a compelling film.
It’s far from Howard’s best comedy – that would still be Splash or Parenthood (1989), but it’s far from bad, either.
Actually, like most Howard comedies over the years it is a bit of a balancing act – the comic given weight by a certain amount of serious drama. In fact, if not for the fact that both of the lead actors are comedians – Vaughn and Smith would seem more comfortable in standup than emoting – this could be a very different movie.
The actual storyline is extremely serious. The titular dilemma is one of the hardest that a man can face: if you find out that your best friend’s wife is cheating on him, do you tell him?
The Dilemma takes a lighter look at this heavy issue – trying for almost a bedroom-farce joviality – and yet characters are badly hurt and some extremely unsavory personal revelations are made.
In fact, Jennifer Connelly’s character – and I love that she is doing lighter roles again after a decade or so of very dark dramas – is more serious than any of the other characters, an oasis of sanity in a desert of disturbed and neurotic people.
On the other hand, James shows a subtle acting talent that has never quite taken advantage of in his goofier comic roles like I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Grown-Ups.
Vaughn, on the other hand, is just Vaughn, motor-mouthing and nearly hyperventilating to get his comic riffs off – even when the role demands a more subtle touch. He’s not bad, mind you, but he is overwrought. A little Vaughn can go a long way, and frankly he has not found a film which took advantage of his hyperactive acting style since The Wedding Planners. On the plus side, The Dilemma is his best performance since then. On the down side, his persona is getting a bit tired. If he doesn’t change things up a bit, he will be marooned in the annoyingly manic-overacting wasteland in which later Robin Williams finds himself mired.
Winona Ryder does fine as the cheating wife, though her role is underwritten and eventually contradictory. Channing Tatum has some fun with his pretty boy rep as the younger lover.
However, Queen Latifah is shamed by a scary-awful supporting role as a dirty-talking corporate exec.
The Dilemma is kind of goofy and not going to change anyone’s life for the better, but there are worse ways to spend an evening.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: January 14, 2011.