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Movie Review: The Dilemma

January 14, 2011

It’s the cycle of nature. Every year, the studios serve their very finest projects for the holidays, chock full of high tone and blue chip casts. This year there was the usual deluxe assortment: literary adaptation (True Grit), drug addiction (The Fighter), madness and artistry (Black Swan), and physical disability, historical drama and royalty (The King’s Speech).

Then comes January. The good stuff runs out and they bring out the cheap wine, hoping we’re too drunk to notice. So we get the likes of Country Strong, Season of the Witch, The Green Hornet and The Dilemma.

Starring the peculiarly charmless Vince Vaughn as Ronny and Kevin James (The King of Queens) as Nick, his purported bosom buddy/business partner/mechanical genius (more on that later), The Dilemma also features Jennifer Connelly (Beth) and Winona Ryder (Geneva) as their respective love interests, both actresses dark-haired, kohl-rimmed, wraith-thin and hard-faced. Of course it’s totally preposterous that either woman would ever go out with the likes of Vaughn or James, and pigs will scrapbook before we see the likes of Jude Law movie-dating the likes of America Ferrara (the only female star under 50 who comes to mind who’s remotely overweight). But hey, that’s the glorious misogynistic magic of Hollywood.

The director is Ron Howard, so every bit of the production is polished. Nice music, pretty cinematography, perfect costumes, gorgeous sets. It’s the story itself that’s so completely ridiculous it borders on the insane. I understand it’s supposed to be broad comedy but there’s broad, and then there’s broad as a barn on fire full of animals who are happy to be put out of their misery because the movie is so horribly, painfully unfunny.

The story is one of those torturously constructed plots that requires the protagonist to act in ways no human being would act, for motivations no human being would hold, all for the purpose of making those around him continue to misconstrue everything as extremely as possible, so that it can all culminate, 4/5 of the way through, in a ludicrously unlikely dramatic crisis that’s not at all funny nor moving, but plenty insulting and boring.

I love unrealism as much as the next girl, but The Dilemma is not unrealistic in an enjoyable way (who doesn’t enjoy great apartment porn?) but in a way that only underscores the complete unrealism of the characters and all their motivations and actions. We’ve already discussed the likelihood of Winona Ryder being the devoted wife of Kevin James. Yes, we’ve seen those couples, but the fortune disparity would have to be greater, on the Donald Trump-Marla Maples level. At the least, he’d have to work at a hedge fund, not be a struggling small business partner.

Meanwhile, Ronny, who bargains with “a Hasid” to get a deal on an engagement ring for his girlfriend and whose idea of culture is hockey playoffs, lives in a duplex that looks as though it costs a cool $4.5 million and features a vast, state-of-the-art kitchen, tasteful carpets (Tunisian), interesting modern art collection and sick bathroom. Then there’s Connelly as a master chef, albeit one who doesn’t so much as chop a vegetable and is able to carry on long conversations in the strangely calm restaurant kitchen in the middle of dinner rush. And if you can believe that James is capable of engineering his own innovative car motor to sell to a major automobile manufacturer, well then let’s just cast him as the lead in the next Black Swan. If that’s not bad enough, the ending is the cheapest possible shot in the book (this is a pun, you’ll see, if you are ever forced for some reason to view the movie).

I know Ryder is trying to make a comeback of sorts, but one wonders why would Connelly have accepted this role. Perhaps she’s trying to cross over into comedy, in which case I’d have to say there is not a funny bone in the woman’s body, and we do see most every one of her bones over the course of the movie, as she appears more emaciated than ever, so we would know. (I actually got excited when Ronny brought her a sandwich and she actually reached for the bag, but of course, it was not to be. They’d probably have to pay her extra to eat in a movie, the way they have to pay extra for full frontal nudity.) More likely, she owes it to Ron Howard, who after all cast her in the movie (A Beautiful Mind) that won her the Oscar.

The question is why Howard made this film at all. One would assume he has his pick of Hollywood’s plummiest properties. Why go with this cloddish amateur screenplay?

There has been some controversy over Vaughn’s character’s use of the word “gay” to describe something (electric cars) as a compound of lameness and fruitiness. In the interest of full disclosure, I have been known to use the word myself as a compound synonym for “lame + fruity.” I am not proud of this. I even still also occasionally deploy the word “retarded” to mean “hopelessly dumb and clueless,” usually with regard to my own actions. I once used it while conversing with a friend who in fact has a sibling with Down’s Syndrome, and totally deserve any negative feeling she may hold against me.

All this to say—and I’m aware of the hypocrisy—that I would not , however, use either phrase in a movie, except in the mouth of a character who is obviously meant to be odious, with his or her odiousness intended to be demonstrated by the use of one or other term. And I would certainly not defend myself self-righteously when attacked for doing so, as Vaughn and Howard have done. But this is too much of a fuss over what is after all only one of the lesser offenses in this lame, fruity, dumb and clueless movie.

Rating: 2/5


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