Oh, Opie I’m so proud of you. Director Ron Howard is keeping the controversial joke that Universal removed from the trailer for his upcoming comedy The Dilemma, in the actual movie. Three weeks ago, CNN’s Anderson Cooper and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) spoke out against the joke in which a character, played by Vince Vaughn, called electric cars “gay.” “We’ve got to do something to make those words unacceptable ’cause those words are hurting kids,” Anderson said. Well, after much thought, Howard has come out on record saying the joke will remain in the movie and has given us a detailed explanation as to why. Read his thoughts and get into the debate after the jump.

Howard wrote a detailed letter to Patrick Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times, who had been covering and discussing the controversy. Here’s what Howard had to say.

Patrick, 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.

It’s not surprising that Howard is keeping the joke in the movie. He feels it serves the character and, ultimately, is a throwaway line. Removing it would probably just call more attention to it. It’s like the Tony Stark and Pepper Potts’ kiss in the Iron Man 2 trailer or the cow in the Twister trailer. Sometimes things that are in trailers, but not in movies, become an even bigger discussion point than the movie itself.

Personally, my sense of humor runs extremely offensive and I believe anything, if presented in the right context, can be funny. So no matter whether or not you were offended by the joke or found it funny, I believe nothing is off limits. The bigger question, one I didn’t consider and that Howard talks about above, is censorship in advertising. Pretty much every single movie that’s released has something in it that will be offensive to someone. Most of the time, though, those things aren’t in the trailers. I’m sure there weren’t N-words in the trailers for Pulp Fiction or Do The Right Thing and commercials for Paranormal Activity 2 and Saw 3D didn’t show any real mutilation. An educated consumer going to a movie should expect some level of discomfort – that’s what makes for great art.

The mostly likely culprit here is just a movie that’s difficult to market. I’ve heard from a few people who’ve seen The Dilemma and they said it’s sweet, poignant and funny, not slap-sticky and stupid like the trailer suggests. But for a movie to be a hit now, it has to play to multiple audiences. Howard says his film is “a comedy for grown-ups, not kids.” But for the movie to be a hit, it has to attempt to play to both. Adults will pay for a sweet, poignant comedy but teenagers won’t, unless Vince Vaughn calls electric cars gay. At least, those are the stigmas the Hollywood marketing machine would lead you believe.

I just hope that come January, when The Dilemma is released, these issues aren’t the only thing Howard has to talk about. He has some serious Dark Tower questions to answer. Plus I’m personally offended at the hacky name “Ronny Valentine.” Really? Ronny Valentine? Come on.

By the way, if you want to see all the trailers in question, Adam Quigley covered this issue when it first hit and he wrapped up everything quite well. Click here to check that out.

Did you ever think he was really going to take the joke out of the movie? Is censorship in advertising different from censorship in art?

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