Braving the latest in a series of Storms of the Century, I couldn’t help but wonder if my time would be better spent sitting at the house rather than dodging black ice patches just to sit through what looked like another in a long line of mediocre comedies to hit the theater in the last few weeks. Sure, The Dilemma has a better pedigree than most. Directed by Ron Howard and starring Vince Vaughn and Kevin James, all the pieces are in place for this to have been a summer release. For the studio to drop this on the second weekend of January made me drop my already low expectations even lower. After the movie ended, I realized I had just watched the funniest film to be released so far this winter.
In The Dilemma, Vaughn and James star as Ronny Valentine and Nick Brannen, a pair of auto designers who only have days to design and produce a prototype hybrid engine for a major auto company that will sound like an eight cylinder and not blow up. While scouting for a romantic place to propose to his girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly), Ronny witnesses Nick’s wife Geneva (Winona Ryder) cheating on him. The rest of the film is spent focusing on Ronny’s dilemma on how to tell Nick about Geneva’s deception, or whether it would be best to just keep the secret hidden.
Leading up to the release of this film, one of the things that puzzled me the most about it was the pedigree of talent that had lined up to be a part of it. Ron Howard is a major director that can get any project he wants greenlit and is a multiple time Academy Award nominee. Jennifer Connelly is usually the best part of really good movies, and isn’t usually the first actress you think of when you think of slapstick comedy. Even after watching the film, I still believe these two are above the material. There are dozens of talented comedic directors that could have handled this script and handed in just as good a finished product as what we see on the screen with Howard’s effort. While there are a handful of flashback sequences and a few scenes that call for tension that are a little better acted than most Vaughn films, this is a very lightweight effort on Howard’s part. There’s not much to say about Connelly’s role or her acting. She does a very good job playing the concerned girlfriend, but there were a dozen other films being produced at the same time as this one that would have showcased her talents better.
There are some standout scenes, however, that are among the funniest that have graced the big screen this winter. The flashback sequences I mentioned above happen whenever Vaughn’s character is lying about where he has been, so when he adds to the story the scene will change to add each new component to it. There is also a fight between Vaughn and Channing Tatum, playing Ryder’s boyfriend, that may be one of the best fight scenes to happen in 2011.
Sometimes we can build a movie up in our minds before it is released to a point where there is no way it can meet our expectations. Other times, we judge films unfairly based on 30 second clips we watch four months before the film is even released. Forget the trailers, forget the commercials, forget the controversies. If you have been waiting on a comedy that is actually worth the price of admission, this is it.