Golden Globes: It’s Time to Separate the Music From the Laughs

Dramatic musicals belong in the drama category; 'A Star Is Born' and 'Bohemian Rhapsody' are willing

DF-10956_R – Gwilym Lee (Brian May) and Rami Malek (Freddie Mercury) star in Twentieth Century Fox’s BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY. Photo Credit: Alex Bailey.
Alex Bailey

Let’s face it: the “musical” element of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.’s Best Picture, Musical or Comedy, category at the Golden Globes is a holdover from a different era, when films that featured production numbers were a staple of the business.

The category was initiated in 1951, the year of “An American in Paris,” and its early days honored films including “The King and I,” “My Fair Lady” and “The Sound of Music” as well as stars like Donald O’Connor in “Singin’ in the Rain.” Lately, however, it has become a repository for critical duds that would otherwise have no lane to swim in — films such as “The Phantom of the Opera,” the 2005 remake of “The Producers,” “Nine,” “Burlesque” and “The Greatest Showman.”

Meanwhile, musical dramas like “Dreamgirls” and “Les Misérables” have at times boxed out true comedies in the category, to say nothing of dramatic biopics that have used music to scam their way into the mix — “Ray” and “Walk the Line” among them. That’s done a real disservice over the years to a field that has an annual opportunity to spotlight acclaimed comedy filmmaking.

Happily, there’s a whiff of change in the air this year. Warner Bros. and director Bradley Cooper made the decision early on to have “A Star Is Born” compete — or at least attempt to compete (the HFPA has final say on categorization) — in the drama field. Angling for the same honors is “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the life story of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, told with Broadway verve and Rami Malek in the lead role. It’s the right call for both films and it also raises a question: Why bother with a separate musical designation in either of the two categories anymore? There are musical comedies and there are musical dramas. Let them fall where they may.

This year the musical pack includes Disney’s “Mary Poppins Returns” starring Emily Blunt and Universal’s “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” with Cher, each looking to score in the wake of Globe-nominated originals that, respectively, arrived 54 years and 10 years earlier. And for something outside the box, there’s Neon’s “Vox Lux” with Natalie Portman.

The migration of “A Star Is Born” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” leaves a scrappy crop of comedies contending for spots this year. Chief among them will be Fox Searchlight’s biting, critically adored period piece “The Favourite.” Director Peter Farrelly’s race-relations dramedy “Green Book” will be formidable as well. Universal plans to submit the film as a comedy following indications from a recent uproarious screening for HFPA members. Coming down the pike is Annapurna’s “Vice,” from “The Big Short” director Adam McKay. That film could also take the dramatic route, but assuming it doesn’t (and provided we’re all ready to laugh at the exploits of former Vice President Dick Cheney 10 years on), those three films could be the best bets in the category.

“There are musical comedies and there are musical dramas. Let them fall where they may.”

Expect the Coen brothers to be in the mix with the Western “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” an incredibly bleak (but bleakly comedic) anthology of six stories. Warner Bros. has a real shot at recognition for the late summer hit “Crazy Rich Asians” as well.

There are also a few indies in contention that would see a boost in profile with a Globes notice. Two Sundance players leap to mind: Bo Burnham’s “Eighth Grade” and Boots Riley’s “Sorry to Bother You.” Whether they’re the HFPA’s cup of tea is an open question, however: We’re still talking about a star-drunk group that in prior seasons has nominated head-scratchers like “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” and “The Tourist.”

Other possibilities include Universal’s “Blockers,” Focus Features’ “Tully,” Fox’s “Deadpool 2” and “Love, Simon,” Fox Searchlight’s “The Old Man & the Gun,” Netflix’s “Dumplin'” and Warner’s “Game Night,” “Ocean’s 8” and “Paddington 2.” The deadline for submissions is Oct. 31.

This is the kind of variety we should be poring through rather than dutifully earmarking an array of tune-heavy budget-busters. It’s simply past time to divorce “musicals” and “comedies” at the Golden Globe Awards. It was always a strange marriage to begin with.

Early Comedy/Musical Golden Globe Predictions

Best Picture – Comedy or Musical
“Crazy Rich Asians”
“The Favourite”
“Green Book”
“Mary Poppins Returns”

Best Actor – Comedy or Musical
Christian Bale (“Vice”)
Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Mary Poppins Returns”)
Viggo Mortensen (“Green Book”)
Robert Redford (“The Old Man and the Gun”)
John C. Reilly (“Stan & Ollie”)

Best Actress – Comedy or Musical
Emily Blunt (“Mary Poppins Returns”)
Olivia Colman (“The Favourite”)
Elsie Fisher (“Eighth Grade”)
Charlize Theron (“Tully”)
Constance Wu (“Crazy Rich Asians”)