Directed by Ron Howard
Much ink has been given to a questionable joke in Ron Howard's The Dilemma: In a sales pitch for a new kind of electric car, motor design salesmen Ronny (Vince Vaughn) and Nick (Kevin James) ridicule today's smart cars for appearing too "gay." Howard has since defended the joke, saying that the dialogue is simply meant to reveal something about the type of people Ronny and Nick are. And though the film has garnered bountiful press because of this unfortunate "joke," it's not actually that much a concern whether The Dilemma has homophobic intentions—the film isn't smart enough to take a stance on anything, let alone homosexuality. What is concerning, though, is the question: Why would anyone want to spend nearly two hours with people who think kittens are "gay" and quote the 2004 hockey drama Miracle to get pumped up for business meetings?
Ronny Valentine and Nick Brannen, best buddies at the center of this would-be buddy comedy, have the misfortune of being pawns in a troublingly misanthropic world spawned by screenwriter Allan Loeb. Both are emotional toddlers who don't talk to one another so much as yell and are consistently crass and obnoxious when they think they're being charming. Of course, for whatever reason, they've attracted women far too good for them: Lazy Ronny dates the luminous chef Beth (Jennifer Connelly, sorely misused but making the most of it), while boring Nick is married to the bouncy, bubbly Geneva (Winona Ryder). Ronny spends his time obsessing over himself and well, himself, while Nick is embattled by stomach ulcers and his total lack of personality.
While checking out an extravagant garden in which he's considering finally popping the question to Beth, Ronny inadvertently witnesses Geneva kissing a heavily tattooed, scrubby 20-something named Zip (Channing Tatum). As he obsesses over whether to tell Nick, Ronny finds himself in all kinds of increasingly far-fetched complications: He's attacked by poisonous plants, beaten up in the street, and everyone around him fears he's gambling again (Ronny is a recovering addict, you see). Lovers quarrel. Suspicious arise. Shots are fired. And the viewer groans at the film's increasingly forced, cloying world of paranoia and hysteria that doesn't resemble anything close to reality—or a reality that most anyone would want to take part (unless one calls babies "gay," I suppose).
The Dilemma works overtime to emphasize that Geneva is the Most Vile Woman Ever, yet, amidst the profound ignorance that pervades her world, Ryder's adulteress winds up being the film's only character the viewer can really appreciate. Not because Geneva is particularly likable—she's not—but because Ryder is allowed for the second time in two months to remind us that she absolutely still has the spark to burn up the screen. And while Geneva is a decidedly sneaky and manipulative character, lying, crying, and pouting her way out of any kind of personal responsibility or emotional confrontation... Well, if I wound up in a marriage with someone as massively uninteresting and emotionally brain-dead as Nick Brannen, spending half my nights dancing to bad music in boring bars and the other half at home alone, wondering why my husband enjoys the massage parlor so much, I might end up a heartless little bitch, too.
Opens January 14