The Dilemma is a comedy about honesty, or rather about how dishonesty contributes to a loss of trust.
The film follows best buddies and hi-tech business partners Vince Vaughn and Kevin James at work and play. Ronny (Vaughn) is a 40-year-old former gambling addict and bachelor who exudes so much self-confidence about his product (an electric car engine that sounds and feels like Steve McQueen’s Mustang from Bullitt), that he could easily sell ice to Eskimos.
Nick (James), his hi-tech, manic-genius partner who does not possess 1/16th the confidence of his partner, wonders if he can live up to expectations from the over-the-top pitch Ronny just made to a Detroit big-wig.
“We’re on the five yard line,” Ronny says, tyring to prop-up his buddy’s self-esteem. “We’ve just got to punch it in.”
“Twenty five,” Nick says, looking down at his shoes.
“What?” Ronny asks. “Are you suggesting that we’re not even in the red zone?”
Professionally, they’re on the verge of closing the biggest deal in their lives with Dodge. Personally, they’re on the verge of a meltdown when Ronny unintentionally spots Nick’s wife, Geneva (Winona Ryder) with a much younger (and muchhunkier) guy named Zip canoodling in the local botanical garden.
Ronny is devastated. However, while he constantly talks about the importance of honesty, he also talks his way around telling the truth to Nick as well as his own live-in girlfriend, Beth (Jennifer Connelly) whom he plans to marry.
The early portions of the film involve Ronny’s dilemma: How do you tell your best friend that his wife is cheating on him? The plot quickly escalates as Ronny confronts Geneva and threatens to tell Nick if Geneva doesn’t come forward with the truth. Geneva counter-threatens Ronny, telling him that she’ll deny everything, then tell her husband that it’s Ronny who’s been “hitting” her stemming from their college days together.
Incensed, Ronny’s on a mission to capture the evidence with a long-lens camera of Geneva on her next canoodle with Zip.
“Are you going to be shooting birds?” the man in the camera store asks.
“Yes,” says Ronny.
After a series of disasters that appear to document Ronny’s descent back into gambling, Nick and Beth put together an intervention to confront Ronny with his behavior and hopefully turn things around. They turn around all right, right into Nick’s face as Ronny confesses that all the contrived stories have been abortive attempts to tell his best friend the truth about his wife.
While the film cleverly plays on the dilemma – how do you tell a friend that a spouse has been cheating – several scenes play out as drama that reveal a greater depth to the characters. Near the end of the film, however, the two friends reconcile before the big presentation with Dodge with an effective conversation about honesty.
“You handled this whole thing like shit,” Nick tells his buddy.
“I’m sorry Nick. I really am.”
“I know I didn’t date a lot,” Nick continues. “So, when Geneva and I were serious you didn’t want to hurt me, but it was before we ever got together. I’m not saying it was easy – the spot you were in – because it wasn’t. But in the future, no matter how uncomfortable things are that affects us, you gotta tell me. You got it?”
“I promise you, Nick, I got it.”
Honesty is perhaps, the most fundamental of ethical values. In communication, honesty obligates us to be accurate, sincere and straight-forward. It requires that we never create a false impression or belief that may be untrue, or misleading. In conduct, honesty demands that we do not steal, cheat or employ any form of deception to attain jobs, money or the approval of others.
Clearly, the film’s underlying message is that in most relationships, particularly long-term relationships, honesty – in both word and action – is vital to long-term trust.