Saturday, 22 January 2011

The Dilemma: Howard's Way

Ron Howard, as a director, has continually proved himself jack of all trades and master of none. His films are all of varying genres and quality, but even his best work rarely rises above workmanlike proficiency or derivative pastiche. ("Apollo 13", "Backdraft", "Willow")

Here, Ron is trying to climb aboard the free-wheeling improv-comedy bandwagon that Judd Apatow recently joyrode into Hollywood, and the result is at the lower end of his patchy filmography.

Vince Vaughn plays Ronny, a man who, along with his best friend Nick (The King of Queens), is trying to land a big car manufacturing deal involving making electric cars sound like petrol cars because noise pollution is fucking awesome or something. When he sees Nick's wife with another man, Ronny is presented with the titular quandary: Does he tell his already overstressed friend the truth, threatening his friendship, their marriage and the totally awesome business deal? Or does he keep schtum? The answer is: who gives a shit?

My attitude towards the events in the film can be summed up by my response to the "Noisy Electric Cars" sales pitch: It's stupid, it doesn't make sense, and I can't get behind a character who would think that it was a good idea.

Vaughn is doing his usual thing of just turning up and making things up as he goes along, which is fine when he's playing a likable character. Here he is saddled with a man whose behaviour is so irrationally plot-governed as to deny us any sympathy for his plight. You can just about understand his reluctance to share the secret with Nick, but then he begins to lie to his lovely, warm, caring girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly, aging beautifully and no longer looking unhealthily thin! What? I'm a fan.) about why he's acting so weird, just to create some second-act complications.

We see in the early scenes that Connelly's character is capable and rational, and yet Ronny doesn't dare go to her for counsel? The contrivance that he doesn't want to reveal that he was secretly looking for a spot to propose to her when he witnessed the cuckoldery simply doesn't hold up.

And herein lies the problem. The film is based entirely on contrived and muddled motivations for irrational, unbelievable and unlikable characters. In the quest to further complicate what should've been kept light and breezy, it is revealed that each of the main characters is lying about something, Ronny is a recovering gambler, Ronny and Nick's wife (Winona Ryder) had sex in college and never told Nick, Nick has been going to a massage parlour for a happy finish for months, and Beth (Connelly) is planning to move to Las Vegas or something. This whole mess of unbelievable lies and deceit is thrown around in order to necessitate the films' bloated runtime.

It could be argued that this all serves to make the film more realistic. Life is complicated, people do lie, and there is rarely just one person at fault in crumbling relationships, but the crucial point is that none of this is funny.

Vaughn and Kevin James are funny chaps, but you can't just put them in a plodding, overwrought, contrived, laugh-free script and expect them to make it palatable. Connelly and Ryder are equally watchable performers but they both have thankless tasks here, and Channing Tatum seems to just be doing a Brad Pitt impersonation as Ryder's bit on the side.

The whole thing feels like over-reaching, as if Howard didn't want to just make a comedy, he wanted to bring along some of his ham-fisted Oscar-baiting sensibilities as well. So, instead of a quick and incisive comedy of errors, we get a stodgy, podgy mish-mash of under-done fun and over-cooked, convoluted attempts at drama. With these opposing forces pulling in different directions, the film remains inert and eventually collapses in on itself.

The good points are few: There are a couple of chuckles to be had - mainly from Vaughn's usual verbal diarrhea - but not nearly enough to tide you through the repetitive narrative, it's nice to see Winona Ryder in two major releases this week, and did I mention that Jennifer Connelly is purely radiant? Even when dressed in t-shirt and trackies and playing table tennis? She's not in it enough to make that a recommendation, though.

Ron Howard should probably stick to mawkish award-fodder as, judging by this film, his Happy Days funny-bone has broken.


  1. The trailer to this was painful enough to the point where I didnt feel the need to subject myself to the whole thing. You are a braver soul than I. Jennifer Connolly IS looking good tho.

  2. I think they should cast Connelly in Labyrinth part deux... Just a thought...
    Honestly though, I'm usually quite a big fan of Howard's work - I won't be rushing to the theaters to see this one though. Thanks for the heads-up.

  3. I started to watch this but just couldn't get my head around someone like Jennifer Connolly dating someone like Vince Vaughn and likewise, someone like Winoa Ryder dating someone like Kevin James so just gave up after 5 minutes.

  4. Please delete this once read.

    Ronny doesn't dare go to her for council?

    Counsel, surely.

  5. Sugar: I was paid to watch it.

    Nina: I would love a Labyrinth sequel with Connelly and Bowie back.

    Matt: it is a trend for schlubby comedians to partner up with attractive ladies in comedy films. Can't imagine why...

    Dead: Got spot! I'll sort that in a bit.

    Thanks for comments!

  6. That should read "Good Spot!", obviously. I am all about the typos.