and sometimes poetry

The Dilemma (2011) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl

We really did not plan on going to see The Dilemma. There seemed no reason for it: we were never a teenage boy and so never watched Swingers with anything more than soporific bewilderment; thus we have never “loved” Vince Vaughn (who is sounding more and more like a robot in need of a tracheotomy, or late Cher); we were also too young to ever regard Winona Ryder, at the height of her fame, with anything more than a little sister’s wide-eyed confusion and spite; and since we actually kind of hate TV, we have never even seen “The King of Queens,” and so spent much of the opening of TD trying to figure out why anyone would ever think Kevin James belonged anywhere other than a Burger King commercial. We saw The Dilemma because David Denby gave it a mildly good review in the New Yorker. We should know, after his similarly anodyne take on Love and Other Drugs—which was way worse than TD, believe us—never to trust him in matters of rom-commery. (David Denby! In the same issue he panned The Green Hornet, which we continue to maintain was not that bad.) But such is the power of the mildly good review, in the middle of January.

The power of criticism is its potential to persuade you, before imbibing the cinematic, or literary, or artistic swill on offer, that what you are about to receive is a finer, or richer, or poorer, or more flavorful, or less, vintage than it actually is. Criticism wraps its flavored condom around the sex of culture and keeps us all safe from being impregnated with our own opinions—keeps us from suffering the bloat and irritation and parturition of thinking for ourselves. Criticism smacks of elitism—of intellectualism, of pointy-nosed, bespectacled know-it-alls and smarter-thans. Or it’s simply opinion, the vice of our times. It’s either heinously against the spirit of America, or woefully a symptom of it. Denby’s review drove us into the waiting arms of The Dilemma. Here’s his assessment: “It’s an essentially serious, sometimes dark movie about infidelity, friendship, and male madness, dotted with patches of broad physical comedy and some spectacular Vince Vaughn riffs.” There is ONE “spectacular V.V. riff” in this movie and it involves a blow-torch and V.V.’s now-puffy face, lit by rage and wasted talent. Kevin James is a huge, dull whale; Winona Ryder bangs her one note of two-timing, elfin bitchiness; Jennifer Connelly looks pretty. Queen Latifah is also there, for no good reason. The movie is “serious” in that it presents characters you fail to develop feelings for in situations you literally could care less about (there’s some subplot about building a loud electric car engine, for example), with few laughs in between. Denby got us to the theater all right, greasing the wheels of the last manufacturing economy the US can still drive: Hollywood. But once there, he reminded us of why we write these reviews at all: as disinterested, hopelessly marginal figures, we can still occasionally speak tiny truth to the hegemony of bad art. Call it opinion; call it our only hope. Don’t go see this movie unless you love the Man, we mean Vince Vaughn.

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