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The Dilemma

A movie directed by Ron Howard

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Honesty is the Best Policy

  • Jan 15, 2011
Star Rating:

The Dilemma tells the story of a recovering gambler who, after discovering that his best friend’s wife is having an affair, falls victim to his own guilty conscience and ultimately loses himself in strange, obsessive behaviors. Many directors would have used this idea as the basis for a psychological thriller, but in the hands of Ron Howard, it has become a comedy. This is puzzling because the basic scenario is anything but funny, and parts of the film shy away so thoroughly from humor it’s as if Howard didn’t trust his instincts on the matter. The result is a confused film, one that can’t find the right balance between broad, slapstick comedy and serious subject matter, the latter of which is surprisingly dark and has been completely avoided in the ad campaigns.
It does have an engaging premise, though, and there are specific scenes so well written and performed that I could see flashes of greatness. I also appreciated the underlying message of the film, namely that honesty is the best policy – provided you fess up at the time of an indiscretion instead of five, ten, or fifteen years later. No one needs to learn this lesson more than Ronny Valentine (Vince Vaughn). Although he has had gambling problems in the past, and although he relapsed two years ago, he seems to be on the right track; he’s in a loving, committed relationship with his girlfriend, Beth (Jennifer Connelly), and he and his best friend and business partner, Nick (Kevin James), are on the verge of a major business deal that will put fuel efficient engines into muscle cars.

One day, while arranging the details for finally proposing to Beth, he notices Nick’s wife, Geneva (Winona Ryder), kissing another man. He now finds himself in a very awkward position. Does he tell his best friend that his wife is cheating on him, or does he stay out of it? When Ronny confronts Geneva, it very quickly becomes apparent that the situation isn’t as clear cut as it might seem. Yes, she has been unfaithful, but she has also been neglected and incredibly lonely. Nick, while generally a decent man, deserves some of the blame – he often goes somewhere a married man really isn’t supposed to go. And what about Beth? Is she being completely honest? Who is Ronny to judge what is and isn’t moral? It’s not as if he doesn’t have a secret of his own, one he would prefer to keep hidden from both Beth and Nick. Is telling the truth worth the risk of ruining your life?
There comes a point at which Ronny confronts the other man, a tattooed brute named Zip (Channing Tatum), in a scene I was conflicted about. It is, on the one hand, an effective departure from the goofiness that defined the earlier portions of the film. On the other hand, it shows Ronny revealing a very unpleasant side to his personality. In a more serious movie, we would already be sure that the man was deeply troubled and in need of serious help. We would, in all likelihood, not even feel the need to laugh, simply because what he’s doing is not funny. But this movie wants us to laugh, so we automatically view his disturbing behavior through an entirely different lens. It’s an awkward moment, one that could have been avoided had the filmmakers known what kind of movie they wanted to make.

If I had had any input in the creation of this film, I would have strongly suggested veering away from comedy. The laughs this movie generates come not from genuinely funny situations but from a litany of crude gags that add absolutely nothing to the story. I was especially put off by the inclusion of Queen Latifah, whose character serves no purpose apart from providing us with the occasional orgasm joke. More points off for a contrived and unrewarding scene in which Ronny falls face-first into a poisonous bush, resulting in rashes, boils, and one instance of painful urination. Had none of this been included, there would have been a more sardonic edge to a scene where Ronny proposes a highly inappropriate toast at the anniversary party of Beth’s parents. It should come as no surprise that the topic is honesty.
I enjoyed most of the cast, especially Connelly, who makes Beth the most convincing character of the whole film. Credit also to Ryder, whose take on Geneva isn’t as one-dimensional as it may seem. As for the lead males, they give relatively decent performances, although they rely a little too heavily on personas that grew old a long time ago; I’m growing weary of Vince Vaughn’s laid-back, fast-talking persona, and there are times when it seems James is stuck in Doug Heffernan mode. The Dilemma has its good points, but it also wastes a lot of its potential, in large part because no one involved could decide on a tone. I’m hoping Ron Howard is a bit more decisive when making his next movie.


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January 17, 2011
I liked this flick but I agree with what your saying, love Kevin James though in anything.
January 15, 2011
Hm. Been really curious about this one, but for me a situtation like this is no dilemma. My loyalty would alway rest with my best friend--I would say something right away and maybe even tell my own wife about what I saw. Sounds like it is one of those things that are very formulaic again.
January 15, 2011
You are right in that, for most people, there would be no dilemma. But keep in mind that Vince Vaughn's character has a secret of his own, and he's recovering from a gambling addiction; for someone like him, there would be a dilemma.
More The Dilemma reviews
review by . May 23, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
** out of ****     The trouble with comedy is that too often, people attempt to blend different styles. Only truly talented filmmakers can do that, and while comedy is pretty much the worse and blandest genre nowadays, which explains why so little GOOD filmmakers invest in such a genre picture. I was never impressed by Ron Howard aside from some of his earlier (or some of his modern) works. "The Dilemma", his newest "dilemma", pretty much calculates the ups-and-downs of Howard's …
review by . June 11, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
1 star: The dilemma is that this film can't find one
You have been buddies with your best friend for the better part of twenty years; you trust each other more than anything trusts and rely on each other explicitly to help each other out whenever needed and back each other up whenever possible. You and your best friend work together and have a very successful business in the automotive industry and you love what you do more than anything else, but here is the dilemma. What if you found out that your best friend's wife was cheating …
Quick Tip by . June 04, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Ron Howard's "The Dilemma" boasts an interesting premise, a great cast of talented actors but it ultimately falls flat on its face thanks to in part   to a horribly mired script and cheesy slapstick, dull moments and terribly overwritten scenes that drag this film down to the depths of movie hell. "The Dilemma" is a good-looking movie with good intentions and an idea but sad to say, with little wit, charm, style or frankly intelligence. "The …
Quick Tip by . June 26, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
It is really hard for me to put a finger on the film “The Dilemma”. It has a good premise; simple, but has something everyone can relate to. I mean, a problem where you saw your best friend’s heating wife making out with another man is a no brainer unless you have something that can hold you back from telling your best friend.      Vince Vaughn and Kevin James does make for a good ‘buddy’ pair, with Winona Ryder and Jennifer Connelly lending the …
About the reviewer
Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #2
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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About this movie


Vince Vaughn and Kevin James  will play best friends and business partners, and Vaughn's character is tortured when he observes his pal's wife getting intimate with another man in a restaurant. Should he tell?
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Director: Ron Howard
Release Date: 14 January 2011 (USA)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Screen Writer: Allan Loeb
Runtime: 112 min
First to Review

"Honesty is the Best Policy"
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