POSTED December 12 2013

Are these comedies? The Golden Globes say yes.

UnknownAs an award that recognizes excellence I take the Golden Globes about as seriously as the statuette given to every kid on the team at the end of soccer season.

Grudgingly I give the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (the crew that administers the Globes) credit for two things. It moved up its awards date in order to make itself a bellwether of the Oscars. And it makes a distinction between movie and TV drama  and comedy, all the better so that Saving Private Ryan does not compete with Shakespeare in Love and Mad Men does not go head-to-head with Modern Family

Still. This morning when I read the Golden Globes nominees for best movie comedy or musical, I did a spit take. The nominees are: American Hustle, Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska and The Wolf of Wall Street.

Inside Llewyn Davis is, indeed, a musical, so I won’t discuss the comic bona fides of the Coen brothers’ mostly-rueful portrait of the Greenwich Village Folk scene circa 1961.  So, OK.

American Hustle, David O. Russell’s fictionalized story of how an FBI agent recruited con artists to assist with the Abscam sting circa 1979 is antic like comedy, and more or less fits the Aristotelian definition of comedy as a narrative “that concerns itself with ordinary people, uses humble language and resolves its complications in a fortunate ending.” So, OK.

Spike Jonze’s Her, a most fragile and imaginative love story between a man and a computer operating system that has Scarlett Johannson’s voice, struck me as inventive and heartfelt but not as comic. This struck me as not really fitting in the comedy category.

Likewise Nebraska, Alexander Payne’s road movie about an underemployed son, his dementia-suffering father, his unfulfilled mother and his overscheduled brother is a poignant portrait of an American family with a hilarious slapstick sequence — but a comedy? I think not.

Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street — well, there’s an embargo on reviewers talking about it. But let’s apply Plato’s definition of tragedy and comedy. The Greek philosopher said that tragedy deals with the substance of power and comedy the contradictions that arise in the absence of power. Insofar as Wolf shows how the substance of cocaine exaggerated its users’ sense of power when defrauding investors, it might properly be classified tragicomic.

Your thoughts on the distinctions between drama and comedy? Blurred lines?


  1. Of course you’re correct. It just seems silly and stupid — almost a commentary on silliness and stupidity. And Daniel Bruhl wasn’t a supporting actor in Rush; he was a co-lead.

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