Length: 1 hr 52 mins
Genre: Relationship Comedy/Drama
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
BD Resolution: 1080p
BD Video Codec: AVC (@ an average 30 mbps, higher at many points)
English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (@ an average 2.5 mbps – up to 5.0 mbps during the big scenes)
French DTS 5.1
Spanish DTS 5.1
English DVS 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Film Rating: PG-13 (Mature Thematic Elements Involving Sexual Content)
Release Date: May 3, 2011
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Jennifer Connolly, Winona Ryder, Channing Tatum and Queen Latifah
Written by: Allan Loeb
Directed by: Ron Howard
Film Rating: 1 ½/5
There are times when a movie fails so completely that it becomes instructive to watch it just to see how it could have happened. Such is the case with The Dilemma, which is ostensibly supposed to be the latest comedy from director Ron Howard and actor/producer Vince Vaughn. Quietly released in January of this year, the movie is the latest showcase for both the strengths and weaknesses of Ron Howard’s directorial filmography. On the plus side, as usual, we have very clear staging, good use of the Chicago locations, and an appealing cast, including some very good work by Winona Ryder. And there’s a tantalizing idea which could work with the right hand to guide the ship. The basic core of the movie, as you may have seen from the trailers, is the notion that Vaughn’s character sees his best friend’s wife (Ryder) kissing another man and then struggles to deal with the situation. Again, with the right approach, this could have worked.
If the film had been played as the uproarious buddy comedy the posters would have you think it is, then you have a big misunderstanding a la Three’s Company or I Love Lucy. In that situation, you’d have a series of slapstick hijinks and wrong assumptions, eventually leading to a happy resolution for everyone. Ron Howard has certainly made films along this line before and could have done quite well with it. But that’s not this movie. Another possibility could have been to play the film completely seriously, with the wife really having an affair and the situation being more dire. In that case, you have something like Unfaithful, and it certainly seems like Howard was trying more along that line. (The film runs nearly 2 hours in length and spends a lot of time trying to generate deeper issues – such as a gambling addiction for Vaughn’s character, and sexual issues for Kevin James and Winona Ryder’s characters.) But the film keeps trying to play awkward comic beats in the midst of serious ones, which undermines any chance at depth. Of course, the film could have been played along a third path – that of the dark, dark comedy – something like last year’s Greenberg or maybe something a touch darker than the stories normally told by James Brooks (such as As Good As It Gets). This third approach may have been what Howard was after, but the film simply doesn’t achieve it. Trying to play comedy out of drama is tricky business, requiring near-scalpel precision in finding the humor. And that kind of precision is sorely lacking here. Instead, we are presented with a series of strange and uncomfortable predicaments for Vaughn’s character as he tries to prove Ryder’s infidelity, confirm what’s really going on with James, and somehow get through the situation without hurting James. When this kind of thing is done well, say by Ricky Gervais, it can be both funny and terrifying at the same time. But in this film, the scenes are just uncomfortable, and in many cases they simply drag on far too long, to the point that one actually starts longing for the relative restraint of a Ben Stiller. (It doesn’t help that the movie presents a major subplot that Vaughn and James are developing a special sound system for a hybrid car – which adds very little to the main story other than to pad out the running time.) And just when you think that the movie has settled into a fairly serious mode at its climax, the whole thing lurches into over-the-top slapstick for the concluding scene. A further serious problem here is that the entire cast appear to be acting in different movies. Vince Vaughn clearly thinks he’s in a dark comedy with serious undertones, and he plays many scenes with a sense of subdued gloom. Kevin James, on the other hand, thinks he’s in a lighter comedy, so he plays straight comedy. Both Jennifer Connelly and Winona Ryder play the beats of a serious drama with light comic overtones – which works intermittently. (One scene with Ryder in a nighttime diner actually works with this approach, except that Vince Vaughn is playing different beats within the same scene.) And then you have Queen Latifah as part of the car company subplot, and she’s playing in an all-out farce. When you add the series of problems together, you hit critical mass fairly quickly. It’s a shame, since the idea could have worked. But for that, they really needed a strong directorial hand and a clear idea which movie they were making.
The Dilemma has been released this week on Blu-ray and standard definition DVD. The Blu-ray holds a fine high definition picture and sound transfer, along with a few special features which, if anything, demonstrate further what went wrong in the process with this film.
VIDEO QUALITY 4/5
The Dilemma is presented in a 1080p AVC 2.35:1 transfer that looks great and works well with numerous inky black night sequences, contrasted with a great final scene on the ice at United Center. I should note that I am watching the film on a 40” Sony XBR2 HDTV. If anyone is watching the film on a larger monitor and is having issues, please post them on this thread.
AUDIO QUALITY 4/5
The Dilemma is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix in English, along with standard DTS 5.1 mixes in French and Spanish, and an English DVS track. The DTS-HD MA mix is quite robust for a comedy like this, including a lot of atmospheric effects in the surround channels, and a healthy amount of subwoofer activity.
SPECIAL FEATURES 2 ½/5
The Blu-Ray presentation of The Dilemma comes with the usual BD-Live connectivity and My Scenes functionality, as well as pocket BLU functionality. The disc also holds an alternate ending, nearly 45 minutes of deleted scenes, a gag reel, two featurettes, and a strange Chicago map/featurette idea. The extras are all presented in 1080p high definition with 2.0 sound.
Alternate Ending – (5:34) SPOILERS HERE – What we have here is actually identical to a late scene in the movie, not the ending, but with a different result. In the released film, after the botched intervention, Vaughn’s character returns to Jennifer Connolly with a take-out bag and they have a long, long tearful scene, at the end of which she opens the bag to find an engagement ring (which is the culmination of Vaughn’s arc with her for the length of the movie). This alternate version of the scene has us watch the whole, unaltered scene up to the final shot, where she opens up the bag and finds…a sandwich.
Deleted Scenes – (43:51 Total, plus a :48 Introduction) MORE SPOILERS HERE – 14 Deleted or alternate scenes are presented here, along with an introduction by Ron Howard. Howard explains that the movie was running long and these were the choices they made toward reducing the length. He doesn’t get into the fact that the ending scene here really is almost more of an alternate ending than the one set aside for that purpose. In the released film, Vaughn and James get their deal with the car company in spite of their fisticuffs, thus leading into the big slapstick hockey finale. In what looks like the original version of that sequence, the car company specifically bars James from the big win.
Gag Reel – (4:42) Much of this is a series of blown takes by Kevin James as he laughs at an offscreen Vince Vaughn. The funniest part of this is the sight of Ron Howard walking into the shot with a VERY serious face trying to get James to pull it together. Result: James laughs earlier and harder during the actual take.
This is The Dilemma – (13:45) This is the usual series of mutually complimentary interviews between Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Vince Vaughn, etc. Brian Grazer says that the basic idea for the film came up in a dinner conversation between him, Howard and their friends, where they discussed this specific problem and everyone had a different answer. The wildest part of this is that everyone who is interviewed thinks they are making a comedy – which makes little sense when you see all of the deadly serious material and long, serious pauses in the actual movie.
Tour Chicago – (12:17 Total) This is an odd feature. It starts with a map screen showing four key locations in Chicago featured in the film: Ron & Beth’s Loft, United Center, The Green Mill restaurant and Garfield Conservatory. Once you highlight a location, you’re taken to a brief featurette of about 3 minutes that provides you with a tour or a good look at the filming done at this place. What makes this strange is that there is no ability to fast forward or rewind during the featurettes.
On Ice – (4:48) – This quick featurette shows Ron Howard being shown how to shoot a puck on the ice by two members of the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center. (Howard mentions that one of the boons of this film was getting to shoot on the ice at the end of a major Stanley Cup season for the Blackhawks..
BD-Live - The more general BD-Live screen is accessible via the menu, which makes various online materials available, including tickers, trailers and special events. At the same time, the Blu-ray also allows for pocket BLU iPhone connectivity. A special rental screen is also included here, offering for $2.99 a BD-Live rental of Meet The Parents, Fast & Furious, Mamma Mia!, Coraline, Knocked Up, The 40-Year Old Virgin, Forgetting Sarah Marshall or Role Models.
My Scenes - The usual bookmarking feature is included here.
The usual promotional ticker is present on the main menu, but can be toggled off at your discretion. The film, and the special features are subtitled in English, French and Spanish. The usual thorough chapter menu is present. When you first put the Blu-ray in the player, you’ll initially see the usual Blu-ray trailers from Universal, piped in via BD-Live. The latest one I saw, just this morning was the longer trailer for the animation/live action comedy Hop.
IN THE END...
The Dilemma is a film that is more instructive in its failure than satisfying. I can’t really recommend it even as a rental to fans of the cast or Ron Howard. I acknowledge it has fine picture and sound, and that it’s a great showcase for today’s Chicago, but that’s not enough to get past the serious problems the film has.
May 7, 2011.