Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
It's always a frustrating thing when a film is promoted one way, when the true nature of the work is something quite different. The most recent example of that might be James L. Brooks' HOW DO YOU KNOW, which is a quite worthy film about three 30-somethings going through transitions in their lives that are leaving their futures with more question marks than any of them thought imaginable. And now we also have the Ron Howard-directed THE DILEMMA, starring Vince Vaughn and Kevin James.
On the surface (and according to all forms of advertising for the film), THE DILEMMA seems to be a comedy about a Ronny (Vaughn), who owns a car-design business with his oldest friend Nick (James), and finds out that Nick's wife, Geneva (Winona Ryder), is cheating. While Ronny has no doubt in his mind that Nick needs to be told about the infidelity, he questions the timing of the news delivery. The pair are on the brink of signing the biggest deal of their professional career, and Ronny is afraid that breaking the news will wreck Nick's ability to finish the project. Ronny confronts Geneva with his knowledge, and she promises to be the one to tell Nick, but not without revealing a few things about the marriage that shock Ronny right out of his belief that the two have the perfect relationship, one that he has modeled his relationship with long-term girlfriend Beth (Jennifer Connelly) after. In the end, Geneva chickens out, leaving the burden of telling and proving the affair all on Ronny.
So, the dilemma in the title is more referring to the timing of breaking the news to Nick than whether or not Ronny will tell him. And as you might be able to tell from my description, the opportunity for humor runs throughout the film, but that doesn't stop Ron Howard and company from exploring the far more serious--even dark--undertones of this story. Ronny is a recovering gambling addict, and the multiple pressures being put on him at this time have him walking past OTBs in the middle of the night. He also thinks that Beth is hiding something from him, and when he finds out what it is, it breaks his heart and makes him realize he still has a lot of damage to fix between them.
I've watched Vaughn pull off these kinds of solid dramatic roles before, so the real surprise in THE DILEMMA is watching Kevin James exercise his acting chops more than he ever has before. I've gotten a couple of emails in the last few weeks asking me if this film is "like every other Kevin James movie," which I'm guessing isn't a good thing in their eyes. In truth, THE DILEMMA is nothing like other Kevin James movies, because it's actually good.
I'm guessing some people will be confused by the tone of the film, which sometimes jerks us back and forth between comedy and drama, but I think the transitions are more seamless than that. If anything, my only complaint about THE DILEMMA is that occasionally the comedy gets in the way of the far more effective serious moments. Do we really need to see Vaughn do a prat fall in the Chicago Botanical Garden and go face first into poison plants? In a way, I liked the fact that Ronny spends most of the movie physically, as well as emotionally, damaged.
THE DILEMMA features a few nice supporting players, including Queen Latifah as a woman working with Ronny and Nick to get their new engine ready for a big presentation; Channing Tatum as Zip, Geneva's new boyfriend; Chelcie Ross as the man representing the big auto maker Ronny and Nick are pitching to; Amy Morton as Ronny's sister; and Clint Howard as...well, you'll see. It's a great part. I think it's pretty clear that Allan (21, THE SWITCH, WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS) Loeb's screenplay was more of a jumping-off point for the actors and director to build upon, and that's a good thing. Each actor gets their moment to really show us what they've got. Despite her character's awful behavior, Ryder plays Geneva as sympathetic and frustrated. Beth is the picture of patience, but Ronny still loves her enough to make certain she's not working on a marriage timetable that he isn't aware of.
What you might find surprising is that neither male lead is playing his character like a man-child. These are mature, responsible men who like to have fun, but they do so with their significant others. They don't gripe about being in a relationship. They still make mistakes, but they are filling the flaws of hard-working grownups. Go figure. And Ron Howard, wisely, lets the story do the work for him. He shoots his Chicago settings beautifully, but as he is prone to do, he doesn't force a style on the work. Instead, he lets the style rise up through the material. Howard is a master at letting the story dictate the style, and with THE DILEMMA, the style is to give the actors room to breathe and work their magic.
The film might make some feel uncomfortable with the level of intimacy it manages to achieve. A third-act "intervention" sequence is funny at first, but gets frightfully serious in a hurry. But I think people who give this one a chance are going to be impressed with the work. I know I was.
-- Capone firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Me On Twitter