‘The Dilemma’ Review: Caught Between a Vaughn Comedy and Character Study

Friday, January 14, 2011
By Rick Duran

Vince Vaughn and Kevin James in 'The Dilemma'

Vince Vaughn and Kevin James in 'The Dilemma'

The Dilemma is a mash between broad comedy and dark relationship drama. The talented cast does their best to paint those darker moments, but much of that is offset when the film shifts back to a Vince Vaughn vehicle. The film begins with a discussion over how long it takes before you really know someone. This sets the path for the film, as integral details and secrets about its two couples (dating pair Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Connelly, married duo Kevin James and Winona Ryder) are revealed throughout its course. Vaughn and James are lifelong friends and business partners, on the verge of designing vehicle engines exclusively for Dodge. Their life-changing business deal is put in a tailspin when Ronny (Vaughn) catches Nick’s (James) wife (Ryder) with another man (Channing Tatum.)

Vince Vaughn is at his physical comedy best, spending much of his time investigating both Ryder and James, not only confirming her affair but also discovering what lead to the married couple’s problems. Vaughn’s many pratfalls provide some big laughs, but they are also awkwardly placed in some very dark moments. This shift in tones causes some problems, including the Channing Tatum character (showing some promising comedic range for the actor) who is depicted as both a violent sociopath and an easily manipulated softie. There are many character quirks throughout The Dilemma that are never fully explored. For example, when Geneva (Ryder) suggests Ronny also follow Nick, we see another side of James’ character, but the script never fully allows that revelation to be discussed. Likewise, Ronny is mentioned to be a recovering gambling addict, but that’s all: it’s only mentioned.

One issue about The Dilemma’s back and forth between light and dark comedy is the more time spent on Vaughn’s “investigations,” the more he ruins the lives of those around him. But when the film goes on to follow the usual beats of a studio comedy, its final resolutions feel forced. Vaughn’s character seemingly learns nothing. Even when James gets his chance to act on his frustrations with Vaughn, the script still follows the usual cliches soon¬† afterward.

Vince Vaughn and Winona Ryder

Vince Vaughn and Winona Ryder

The cast does their best with the material provided. Jennifer Connelly is sadly underused, showing some promise early on, as Vaughn’s sassy girlfriend with an accepting attitude, not feeling pressured into rushing into marriage. But she is given little to do beyond that, as she goes into the studio comedy stereotypical “concerned girlfriend”, where an actress only has two script responsibilities: react and forgive. Winona Ryder is given the most room to impress as Geneva, James’ cheating girlfriend. She steals the show in her confrontations with Vaughn. One particular diner scene is one of the best moments in her career, giving a manipulative, psychotic monologue about her plans for defense. Kevin James is restrained, showing some dramatic potential, not going too broad (with the exception of one humorous dance scene.) He carries most of the film’s heart, as the brains behind the lead duo’s engine manufacturing plant. One of the film’s best moments is James testing out an engine (with a hard-rocking soundtrack setting the scene’s tone), where the actor provides an equally restrained-while-intense performance. Vince Vaughn fans will also be pleased, as the actor is in nearly every scene, carrying much of the film’s comedy on his shoulders; literally. Ronny gets thoroughly beaten up from beginning to end. Queen Latifah also provides some laughs, in a cameo as the auto exec trying to sell Ronny and Nick’s project to Dodge. She gets several laughs describing just how much of a turn-on Nick’s engines will provide.

There are good laughs to be found in The Dilemma; it’s not a bad film. But with the pedigree of the cast, rising screenwriter Alan Loeb (Wall Street 2, The Switch, 21, Things We Lost in the Fire), and Oscar winning director Ron Howard, it should have been a great film. The editing of key moments including Vaughn investigating Connelly, in addition to the big engine-test ending may leave audiences slightly confused. Like the 2004 disaster Envy, The Dilemma is another misguided comedy where an Oscar-winning director known for drama doesn’t quite know how to best serve two comedic superstars. Vaughn’s 2006 divisive film The Break-Up did a more effective job of balancing the comedy and drama, even when showing its characters at their darkest moments; the dark moments were real, not just added layers. In The Dilemma, that same balance is off, and it does ultimately affect how the audience will interpret the ending. Once the film finishes its dramatic purposes in the third act, it basically retreats along the path of an Adam Sandler comedy script with forced resolutions and no reflection.

The entire cast leaves the film showing potential for great work ahead of them; The Dilemma gives Vaughn, James and Ryder some great performance showcases. But the execution of piecing the film together   prevents The Dilemma from reaching the potential it should have.


One Response to “‘The Dilemma’ Review: Caught Between a Vaughn Comedy and Character Study”

  1. Thanks for the review, Rick. I’m definitely interested in seeing Vince and Winona especially.


Leave a Reply