How do you go about telling your best friend about his wife and … a guy named Zip? This dreadful dilemma, though, isn't even the biggest in the film.
Just how long does it take to get to truly know someone? Do we ever, really?
Nick thinks it takes 10 seconds. After all, it was love at first sight when he met Geneva, who's been his wife for years now. His wheeler-dealer business partner and best friend since college Ronny, though, is not quite so optimistic. A serial monogamist, Ronny is finally trying to settle down with his girlfriend, Beth.
Earnest Nick and fast-talking Ronny are co-owners of B&V Engine Designs. The long-time friends are on the brink of a huge Chrysler deal that will put their small firm on the map. Considering the fact that Nick is "mortgaged to the hilt" and "borrowing against borrowing," sealing a long-term big-company partnership is crucial for his financial and emotional survival. As a recovering gambler, Ronny could also use the cash.
It won't be easy. Nick, who heads technological development, is a nervous wreck about trying to make a newfangled electric motor rev like a classic muscle car—something he's promised to Chrylser. So when he thinks about what's at stake for B&V it's all he can do to stay sane. His stress levels are in the stratosphere.
That's why, when Ronny sees Geneva kissing Zip, a younger and seriously tattooed dude, he comes face to face with a real dilemma: to tell or not to tell. Or maybe it's when to tell. Or how. He doesn't want to hurt Nick, lose his friendship and destroy their business opportunity all in one fell swoop.
To gather evidence against Geneva, Ronny goes all private eye on her. He opts not to tell Beth, who's already living with him, about the situation, however, and as a result she's concerned about his increasingly bizarre and inappropriate behavior. He comes home beaten up. He's seen giving a wad of cash to a strange man. He rambles inappropriately during her parents' anniversary party. Nick notices Ronny's deterioration, too, and eventually he and Beth intervene to save him from what they think is a gambling relapse.
And that's when Nick learns just how wrong he is about that whole "knowing someone in seconds" notion.
The Dilemma explores some of the deep complexities of relationships and the importance of trust, honesty and faithfulness within them. Yes, it's unusual for Vince Vaughn to star in a movie about which I can write such a line. And yet, there it is.
Ronny and Nick have been through thick and thin for decades. And this latest hardship makes them realize all the more how important is the forgiveness, trust and deep bond they've enjoyed for so long. They vow to share everything that might affect their relationship in the future, no matter how uncomfortable the information. Beth and Ronny also vow not to keep secrets. Ronny seeks out advice about what he should do with his dilemma—from his sister and even from total strangers.
Nick tells Ronny that marriage is wonderful—kind of like a "warm stew"—and that it's better than the serial sexing he's seen his friend participate in. He encourages him to marry Beth and settle down, saying, "Don't let fear sabotage your chance to be happy."
Deeply burdened, Ronny prays sincerely. Unsure God is listening, he still informs Him that he doesn't want to learn lessons from Nick and Geneva's troubles—he just wants it to work out. He goes on to admit, however, that he did learn good lessons when his gambling request prayers weren't answered. He also says that while he knows he should, he's scared to give God the situation. Then he asks for help with it and with the Chrysler deal.
Through Ronny's camera lens, Zip and Geneva are seen making out, undressing and starting to have sex. A shot of her bare back and a close-up of her buttocks are also seen. Nick habitually goes to a massage parlor, where it's strongly implied he receives sexual favors. Couples lock lips, sometimes passionately. And Ronny lies on top of Beth as they kiss. Zip thrusts his hips several times in a quirky sexualized dance for Geneva.
We're told that Ronny and Geneva slept together while drunk in college, three months before she met Nick. Though they swear it was meaningless, they've avoided telling Nick for as long as possible. Ronny awkwardly insinuates that Beth's parents might have had affairs during their 40-year marriage.
A Chrysler exec makes several very crude jokes about female arousal and says she wants to have sex with Ronny's words and "bang" his brain. She implies that she loves watching porn. Ronny makes a remark about an older woman's "tight" body. Verbal gags reference sex with a second cousin and trading sex for business favor. A muscle car is said to have taken more virginities than Frank Sinatra. Manual stimulation is mentioned with the British crudity "w-nked." A fellow train passenger indirectly tells Ronny she wishes he were a pervert. Beth's cousin makes an appearance with his boyfriend. Women wear short, low-cut dresses.
Several times men punch and kick one another, bloodying lips and cutting faces. They wrestle violently. Nick clocks Ronny, then drives his knee into his groin. Zip smashes a board through a door, trying to attack Ronny. He also aims a gun at Ronny's head and bashes Ronny's car (and Ronny himself) with a baseball bat. Ronny uses an aerosol can and a lighter to make a flamethrower, which he uses against Zip.
A guitar is thrown across a room, destroying a large fish tank. There's a random mention of the Donner Party's cannibalism (and an image of someone wielding a large knife). Ronny slides down a small slope, falling on his face. Zip falls out of a tree. A few hard checks at a hockey game feel pretty harsh.
Crude or Profane Language
One f-word. Around 15 s-words. A picture of a man angrily holding up his middle finger is shown twice. God's name is abused more than a dozen times. (It's coupled with "d‑‑n" three or four times.) Christ's name is misused a few times too. Other language includes "b‑‑ch," "h‑‑‑," "a‑‑hole," "b‑‑tard," "pr‑‑k" and "p‑‑‑."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Alcohol is served with several meals and at Beth's parents' party. Ronny and Geneva talk about a "booze night" in college when they got really drunk together. Several scenes take place in bars.
Zip says he took an Oxycontin pill and won't feel pain if Ronny hits him.
Other Negative Elements
White lies are Ronny's specialty. Other characters lie as well. Ronny has difficulty urinating (we hear his efforts) after being exposed to poisonous plants. Side effects the doctor lists include diarrhea, vomiting, bloody discharge and various other troubled bodily functions that are thrown into the mix as jokes.
Geneva threatens to deny her affair and frame Ronny, saying she'll tell Nick that Ronny's been making passes at her for years after they had sex. She claims she doesn't want to have an affair, but she's been driven to it by Nick's neglect.
Heavy children are called "porkers."
The film's website states that The Dilemma is "a story of how far you can bend a brotherly bond before it snaps." But director Ron Howard (Angels & Demons, The Da Vinci Code, A Beautiful Mind) says it's about more than that. He told Cinemablend, "The friendship is huge in it, but the relationships are really central as well. It really is about all their relationships. All of them in one form or another, whether it's romantic, whether it's going back to the past, whether it's friendship. The love stories matter. We're just kind of not dealing with them in, I hope, a predictable way."
He's right about relationships taking center stage. But as to whether his wish comes true about dealing with them in an unpredictable way, well, that's more complex.
Ronny's finally decided to take the plunge and make an honest woman out of Beth. And that's great. Fantastic, in fact. But he wouldn't really think of it as finally doing the right thing. He's just finally following his heart.
Similarly, Beth tells Ronny that keeping secrets from her "belittles" their relationship. But she never considers how cohabitation might as well.
And as for Nick, who so highly recommends matrimony to Ronny, he doesn't fight to protect and keep his wife. Instead, he's been cheating on Geneva, too, choosing work and sexual infidelity over nurturing their relationship. When Geneva pleadingly asks him if there's anything about their marriage he still believes in, he turns away. Later he tells Ronny that he and Geneva had been hanging on to something that wasn't there anymore.
The Dilemma reads like a movie that's trying to make audiences think. But about what, exactly? In real life, telling the truth can simultaneously hurt and heal. But it's always what we're supposed to do. Onscreen, Ronny even tries to tell it in love. So truth-telling is the one message that stands out when the credits start to roll. But mounds of typical unnecessary and crass content added to it, along with typical misguided and modern mores when it comes to sexual relationships mean that Howard's serious take on a buddy comedy may be more predictable than he thinks.
A postscript: When the trailer for The Dilemma arrived in 2010, it drew sharp criticism for including a joke about electric cars being "gay." Director Ron Howard agreed to have the bit excised—but only from the trailer. He left it in the film. In a written response to the Los Angeles Times, he explained: "It's true that the moment took on extra significance in light of some events [recent suicides of young gays] that surrounded the release of the trailer and the studio made the decision to remove it from advertising, which I think was appropriate. I believe in sensitivity but not censorship. … I don't strip my films of everything that I might personally find inappropriate. Comedy or drama, I'm always trying to make choices that stir the audience in all kinds of ways. … Anybody can complain about anything in our country. It's what I love about this place. I defend the right for some people to express offense at a joke as strongly as I do the right for that joke to be in a film. But if storytellers, comedians, actors and artists are strong-armed into making creative changes, it will endanger comedy as both entertainment and a provoker of thought."