Sunday, January 16, 2011

Threat of false claim at the center of Ron Howard's 'The Dilemma'

Spoiler alert: don't read this if you don't want to know what happens in the film.

Ron Howard's "The Dilemma," with Vince Vaughn and Kevin James, can't make up its mind if it's a drama or a comedy, and it ends up feeling like failed attempts at both. Although Vince Vaughn does have a quintessential Vaughn moment -- his absurd toast at an anniversary party -- all in all, if you have a choice, see "True Grit" instead. 

The reason we are mentioning "The Dilemma" on this site is that the dilemma in the title largely stems from the threat of a false claim of a sexual nature.

Ronnie (Vaughn) sees the wife of his best friend and business partner, Nick (James), kissing and carrying on in public with a much younger guy who looks like a model. Ronnie is faced with a dilemma: to tell Nick or not to tell him. Ronnie decides he has to tell, but first he goes to Nick's unfaithful wife, Geneva (Winona Ryder), to give her the chance to tell Nick so he won't have to.

Geneva spoils Ronnie's plan, and creates the "Dilemma," because she threatens not only to deny any accusation that she's having an affair, but to tell Nick that it was Ronnie who's been coming onto her for the past 20 years or so, even becoming physical of late.  Her claim will have the ring of plausibility, she suggests, because she plans to tell Nick something true that Ronnie has never told him: she and Ronnie had drunken sex once in college before she ever met Nick.  Geneva then gives Ronnie a demonstration of how she will lie, in a tearful, and completely believable outpouring of grief.  Then she turns off the tears the way normal people shut off a spigot, and smugly asks Ronnie who Nick will believe. Nick, and the audience, know full well that Nick will believe Geneva's lie.

The scene made me uncomfortable, and I had a flashback to the MSNBC report about the woman who falsely accused a police officer of rape after he pulled her over for a traffic stop. If the traffic stop had not been videotaped, I suspect most people would assume the woman's subsequent tearful rape allegation was 100% accurate.  My flashback was all the more chilling because it dawned on me that the woman in the MSNBC story was not an "A" list actress like Winona Ryder, yet her tale would have destroyed the life of an innocent man.

It underscored for me the power that women hold over men when it comes to sex lies. Men are fortunate that relatively few women choose to exercise that power. But the real power isn't in actually telling sex lies, it is in having the ability to do so, if "necessary."  I suspect that most men, deep down, are aware of that power, and temper their behavior accordingly.

If you want to see another film still in theaters with disguised misandry, check out Mark Wahlber's "The Fighter," where a woman violently hurls dishes and pots at her defenseless husband, and, of course, he doesn't, because he can't, defend himself.  It is played for comedic effect.