Self-conscious smarty-pants Nick Brannen (Peter James) is the yin to Ronny Valentine’s (Vince Vaughn) silver-tongued and handsome yang. They’re best friends as well as independent business partners whose enduring love is supported by their doting and beautiful love-interests Beth (Jennifer Connelly) and Geneva (Winona Ryder). Ronny is a smooth-talking but self-centred romantic who views Nick and Geneva’s 20 years of marital bliss as something of a miracle and a personal inspiration until by chance he witnesses Geneva’s giggly, saliva-swapping infidelity with a young stud called Zip (Channing Tatum). To make matters worse he discovers Geneva’s affair at a pivotal moment in the duo’s careers as they are on the brink of signing a deal with Chrysler which will push their small electric-automotive company into hardcore business success. Ronny is thus faced with The Dilemma of when, where, how and whether or not he should confront his best friend with the crushing truth. Obviously, we all know Nick has to find out but Ronny is immature and egocentric – a most dangerous combination – and as far as we can make out until this point completely incapable of making committed and adult decisions that may influence his own life (for instance proposing to the wonderful Beth) let alone taking responsibility for his best friend’s happiness.
Now if you don’t like Vince Vaughn then don’t watch The Dilemma because it is in effect a two hour Vaughn marathon. This obviously has its downsides and creates a few glaring flaws, for instance in what universe could all 6ft and 5inches of Vaughn’s behemoth form go unnoticed by the various characters he ‘sneaks’ after whilst he plays private detective? But in many ways Vaughn is in his element and luckily the charm and appeal which has secured his place as one of the popular comedy titans shines through his otherwise quite unlikeable character. Saying that, Ronny rakes in a lot of the laughs and is the only character that appears to grow at all during the course of the film’s meaningful offerings. Sadly they are all under-developed.
Peter James’ Nick is an emotionally weak ergomaniac who is almost entirely obnoxious, his other half Geneva is an astonishingly manipulative piece of work whilst Beth is beautiful but bland. This under-development means that although we understand what Howard is working towards, big grown-up emotions and real-life resolutions we just can’t subscribe to it. When Geneva proves that Nick is an indifferent and frankly rubbish hubby it is impossible to feel anything for her or justify her deception and it’s not helped particularly by the fact that we don’t really give a damn about Nick either. Howard has presented us with a melting pot of themes, intrigues and character traits which are too conflicting to rest comfortably within a comedy framework. Luckily, it appears myaudience and I all realized in the first 20 minutes that this wasn’t going to be the light-hearted, formulaic flick we’d anticipated which resulted in a steady stream of generous reactions.
Visually the film is quite rich and in places stunning due to a handful of choice locations and a clearly talented art director. Queen Latifah provides a refreshing (if regrettably short) piece of unrestrained comic brilliance in the cringe-worthily shameless role of Susan Warner, after-all, a bit of no-frills immodest fun is what we expected from the trailers… And I even quite enjoyed Channing Tatum’s fleeting and mostly naked presence but this is definitely due to Zip and Ronny’s ridiculous fight sequence which I must admit did tickle a few ribs. I am disinclined to dissect The Dilemma piece by piece because from the word go it’s not exactly what anybody expected but it does deliver a few decent laughs, a couple of feel-good moments and a rare opportunity to see mainstream comedy actors juggle a dark script and some deliberately difficult characters to relate to. But it is best to ignore the advertising hype, this film is not a simple comedy because it does bring a lot more to the table but whether the result is an appealing mixture or an unconvincing mess is hard to say. Overall I enjoyed The Dilemma and its attempt to break the mould but as I’ve mentioned, I was part of an indulgent audience and we were quick to spot the saving graces.
The Dilemma hits UK cinemas today, January 21st