Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Dilemma

MPAA (PG-13) CNS/USCCB (L) Mike Phillips (2 stars) Fr. Dennis (3 stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Mike Phillips Review -

Kudos to writer Alan Loeb, director Ron Howard, and the principal actors in The Dilemma for presenting couples with the complexities of a true marital dilemma to be discussed for some time among friends.

Note to parents: There is no obvious reason to rate this movie “R.” So in that sense, “PG-13" is appropriate. However, the subject matter (infidelity, probable divorce) may not be all that useful to a child/young teen, especially since I don’t believe that the movie’s resolution is particularly good (see the end).

The setup to the story:

Vince Vaughn and Kevin James play Ronny and Nick, two late 30-something to 40-something buddies who met in College and are now partners in a tiny electro-mechanical engineering startup in Chicago. But they have big plans. They pitch to Chrysler a way to make to make an electrical car feel and sound like late-1960s GTO. Chrysler is interested. Now they just have to prove to Chrysler that they can do it.

But Ronny’s and Nick’s lives (and friendship) extend beyond their work. Nick’s married to Geneva (played by Winona Ryder) who knew the two in college and Ronny has been dating/living together for some time with Geneva’s friend Beth (played by Jennifer Connelly). At the beginning of the movie, Geneva tells Ronny that he’s going have to propose to Beth soon because (1) otherwise Beth is going eventually leave him and (2) she (Geneva) has no more friends to offer him, that Ronny’s exhausted her/Nick’s rolodex of friends/potential dates.

So Ronny takes the advice and begins working on preparing a perfect proposal to Beth. That's perhaps fitting as he was the “salesman” in Ronny-Nick's business partnership while Nick was the brains. Great. However, a huge problem soon presents itself. While Ronny is putting together this “perfect proposal,” he discovers to his horror that Geneva is cheating on Nick. The rest of the movie is about answering the question: What to do now?

I honestly do applaud the film-makers’ effort at presenting the complexities of the situation. Ronny and Nick are business partners, they’ve made a bid, they have a contract, they simply have to follow through. Then _everybody_ in the picture has their own demons, their own pasts, their own insecurities, and yes, their own truths. Everyone. Honestly, welcome to the world that we priests see in the Confessional.

On the story’s conclusion (definite SPOILER ALERT)

So how to sort it out? Here, I do sincerely believe that the movie fails. After beautifully exposing the situation in its complexity, the “resolution” feels remarkably a like blind fall-back to a _safe_ but arbitrary “consensus driven orthodoxy” with the inevitable "witch burning" at the end.

But then this is a story told by Hollywood, where first there is no sin, and then when it can no longer be denied, there is no forgiveness. And this is where the Church used to be great. Because in the Confessional (and the invitation given to the penitent to extend it outside), there always was/(is?) both – both sin but above all forgiveness.

How will those three continue with life knowing that they (metaphorically) burned their decades-long friend Geneva at the stake? Probably quite well. But it is _unjust_, it sucks and our Gospel is, in fact, far kinder than that.

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