Ron Howard: The Dilemma‘s Unfunny And Juvenile Gay Joke Stays

Though director Ron Howard and Universal Pictures agreed to pull Vince Vaughn’s “electric car are gay” line from the film’s trailer, the “joke” will remain in the film. Because, explains Howard, The Dilemma is a movie for adults; features characters with flaws; and because if “storytellers, comedians, actors and artists are strong armed into making creative changes, it will endanger comedy as both entertainment and a provoker of thought.”

That last one is the biggest non sequitur of the bunch — because what Vaughn’s character is doing in the film is neither comedic nor creative, but to each his own. It’s clear from the lengthy response he gave the LAT‘s Patrick Goldstein, Howard and his handlers have discussed the offensive line. And this letter does not read as a “fuck you and your fucking prudish friends,” which is good.

But nowhere in here does Howard mention what happens when the language (sorry, “jokes”) he thinks is so crucial to Vaughn’s character gets adapted by mainstream American audiences. You could argue that viewers of Jackass 3-D, then, might be encouraged to go home, rig a porta-potty to a bungee cord, and let ‘er rip. The difference is that one movie element is recognized as an extreme stunt, while the other is viewed as perfectly acceptable.

GLAAD, nor gay blogs like this one, should call the shots in filmmaking. And we never will: We don’t have that kind of power. But we can try to influence the creative powers that be to do things better in the future. And that’s what The Dilemma and its electric cars brouhaha will end up an exercise in practicing.

Howard’s full letter:

I’ve been reading your posts about THE DILEMMA with a lot of interest. In the couple of weeks since you started covering the debate over our joke, it seems a larger conversation made up of many questions about all sorts of freedoms of expression has broken out: When’s it okay to walk off of a talk show if you disagree with the guest? Who is appropriate to cast in a movie and who gets to decide that? Should news people be held to a different standard in what they say? How risqué can a photo shoot be for a men’s magazine promoting an all-audience show? What role does comedy play in both pointing out differences and unifying us through laughter?

They’re all good questions and I’m certainly not the person who has definitive answers to all of them. The debate about what is appropriate in films and advertising has been going on since well before I started in the business — which is to say a very long time — and will never have a conclusion. But I do have some answers to the five questions you put forth in your post. I suppose you’re right that since our movie about two friends trying to do right for each other has been caught up in this larger debate, I’ll have to face these questions as we start to promote THE DILEMMA. I figured I’d address your questions here and maybe answer them once and not from, as you said, “every reporter with a functioning brain.” So here we go.

So why was the joke in the movie? Our lead character of Ronny Valentine has a mouth that sometimes gets him into trouble and he definitely flirts with the line of what’s okay to say. He tries to do what’s right but sometimes falls short. Who can’t relate to that? I am drawn to films that have a variety of characters with different points of view who clash, conflict and learn to live with each other. THE DILEMMA is a story full of flawed characters whose lives are complicated by the things they say to and hide from each other. Ronny is far from perfect and he does and says some outrageous things along the way.

Was it in the script or was it a Vince Vaughn ad lib? Vince is a brilliant improvisational actor, but in this case it was always in the script. THE DILEMMA is a comedy for grown-ups, not kids. It’s true that the moment took on extra significance in light of some events that surrounded the release of the trailer and the studio made the decision to remove it from advertising, which I think was appropriate. I believe in sensitivity but not censorship. I feel that our film is taking additional heat as an emblem for many movies and TV shows that preceded it that have even more provocative characterizations and language. It is a slight moment in THE DILEMMA meant to demonstrate an aspect of our lead character’s personality, and we never expected it to represent our intentions or the point of view of the movie or those of us who made it.

Did you think it wasn’t offensive? I don’t strip my films of everything that I might personally find inappropriate. Comedy or drama, I’m always trying to make choices that stir the audience in all kinds of ways. This Ronny Valentine character can be offensive and inappropriate at times and those traits are fundamental to his personality and the way our story works.

Will comedy be neutered if everyone gets to complain about every potentially offensive joke in every comedy that’s made? Anybody can complain about anything in our country. It’s what I love about this place. I defend the right for some people to express offense at a joke as strongly as I do the right for that joke to be in a film. But if storytellers, comedians, actors and artists are strong armed into making
creative changes, it will endanger comedy as both entertainment and a provoker of thought.

And what do you have against electric cars anyway? Nothing! We have a couple of them in our family including the one I primarily and happily drive. Guess what that makes me in the eyes of our lead character? But then again, I don’t agree with everything Ronny Valentine says and does in this comedy any more than Vince Vaughn, the screenwriter or any member of the audience should for that matter.

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