For 'Wolf of Wall Street' and other films, it's hard to draw the line between comedy and drama
Golden Globes ballots will be mailed Nov. 27 with film entries broken down as usual between dramas and comedies.
The organization is more confident than I am. For several films in this year’s race, it’s hard to see where to draw the line. I was deeply moved by “Nebraska” and “Before Midnight,” but they ARE comedies. “Enough Said,” “Her” and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” are also comedies, but more heartfelt and touching than many dramas.
Several studios submitted films as comedies to the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. on the supposition that the race is less competitive than the jam-packed drama race. So you can’t blame the strategists for trying, but the HFPA makes the final decision, with nominations to be announced Dec. 12.
Paramount’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” (pictured above) is apparently a comedy. (No one can dispute that, because no one’s seen it.) And with many other films, the boundaries are squishy: “American Hustle” (drama, I hear), “Blue Jasmine” (drama), “August Osage County” (comedy), “Philomena” (drama), “Saving Mr. Banks” (drama) and “Inside Llewyn Davis” (musical, which makes sense).
The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. won’t have an easy time deciding where to put the contenders. Similarly, the Critics Choice Movie Awards from the Broadcast Film Critics have a category for comedies, so they will have to make their own distinctions.
There are few real knee-slappers in the picture race, though some of the actors and scripts of broader comedies could certainly be in the running. For example, I could see the HFPA nominating Jennifer Aniston for “We’re the Millers,” Melissa McCarthy for “The Heat” or “Identity Thief,” Joseph Gordon Levitt for “Don Jon” and Vince Vaughn for “Delivery Man.” I would also endorse James Corden for the upcoming “One Chance.”
The Golden Globes started in 1943, and the HFPA split the categories between drama and comedy/musical nine years later. In those days, it made sense. Studios programmed movies by genres, which helped theater owners vary the fare for audiences among dramas, comedies, Westerns, musicals, and so on. But as the studio system broke down, the rigid lines became more fluid in terms of aesthetics. Filmmakers like Billy Wilder made movies that were less like genre fodder, more like life.
For years, some pundits have been asking the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences to add a comedy category, since laffers get short-changed in Oscar voting. I can understand that: Whoopi Goldberg in “Sister Act” and Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau, to cite just two of many examples, are great performances that never got awards attention.
But in general, I don’t think the distinction is a good idea. Were “The Graduate” and “Forrest Gump” comedies? I would vote yes on both, but I wouldn’t argue with anyone who declared them dramas.
Both films had a lot of laughs, but the endings were sad. In that sense, Hollywood can follow the Shakespearean standard: Scholars classify some of his plays as comedies (such as “Measure for Measure”) based on whether the final scene resolves things happily or not.
See, this is just one reason why I love awards season. You get to debate the definition of drama, and to use “We’re the Millers” and Shakespeare in the same column. That’s a notion that is both serious and comic.