The Dilemma

Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Jennifer Connelly, Winona Ryder, Kevin James, Vince Vaughn and Queen Latifah
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Runtime: 119 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Sexual references, violence and coarse language


Americans. They’re certainly out there, extroversion personified. That in itself may be a friendly warning about The Dilemma and its style and impact. Americans out there.

It might seem a romantic comedy with Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Connolly. Sometimes it is. It might seem a boofhead comedy with Kevin James. Sometimes it is. It might seem a drama about business and car manufacture and technology. Sometimes it is. It might seem a drama about fidelity and infidelity. And often it is. It makes for a heady kind of mixture.

Late in the film, it occurred to me that maybe the best way of responding to the film and its set of mostly unlikeable characters, is to take on the attitude of a therapist: sit, look and listen, while trying to read the characters, their problems and dilemmas, and looking for leads for their better mental and emotional health. Then, just before the end, there is an actual group therapy session, so this response was on the right track.

This is a problem drama for 40-somethings. The four central characters are at that age and their interests are in marriage, relationships, and success in their work. They value friendship as we immediately see. They value career as we then see. Kevin James is Nick, a wiz at technology for car engines. Vince Vaughn is Ronnie, his friend and partner, the mouthpiece and promoter for whom every presentation seems a variation on Saturday Night Live. Nick is long married to Geneva (Winona Ryder). Ron ought to be proposing to Beth (Jennifer Connolly, as the only really sympathetic character in the film).

So far, so good. Possibilities of a contract with Chrysler. Friends and success. An engagement in the offing.

But…, and here the dilemma starts. Ron sees Geneva with another man (a loopy Channing Tatum as Zip). And here is the dilemma. Should he tell Nick or not? He puts his foot in it with his sister who thinks he is warning her about his marriage. Nick is too busy with the project to listen, except to encourage Ron to propose. Geneva tries to put a story over on Nick. Beth just wonders what is wrong with Ron when he appears with plant poisoning and a black eye and a hyper state of anxiety.

For those of a calmer and quieter disposition in the face of such a dilemma, Ron’s reaction is so overboard, constant, grating, verbose, emotional, judgmental and self-righteous, leading him to snoop, photograph, threaten and give a singularly inappropriate toast at Beth’s parents’ 40th anniversary party, that you feel like avoiding him or giving him away. But, the therapist needs to listen and mull, even when the client is grating and unengaging. At times, you might even feel sorry for Geneva and her reasons for her affair – but she has no chance against the buddies.

The dilemma is worth pondering. How much truth should be told – and, importantly, when and how?

While the film does offer its answer, I’m not sure.

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