By definition, a comedy is “intended to make an audience laugh”. “Bridesmaids” director Paul Feig goes by a very similar standard, tweeting, “A comedy’s a film whose #1 goal is to make people laugh. If that wasn’t the filmmakers’ top goal, it’s not a comedy.”
2015 didn’t supply many pure movie comedies. The video game adventure “Pixels” and Feig’s own “Spy”, starring the Queen of the Modern Comedy, Melissa McCarthy, are essentially Action Comedies. Amy Schumer’s “Trainwreck” also contained romantic, and even some dramatic, elements. “Pitch Perfect 2” and “Ricki and the Flash” benefited from music throughout to keep their light tones. “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” had a positive, light-hearted energy for the first two-thirds but an emotional final act. Technically, it’s a “dramedy”.
The smartest “Comedy” of the year was “The Intern”, starring an excellent Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway at her career best. Similar in story and execution to “The Devil Wears Prada” ten years ago, “The Intern” didn’t have a lot of laughs but the premise, situations, and likable leads kept me smiling nearly the entire time. It’s good-hearted and quite moving. But, if “The Best Comedy of the Year” Award needs to go to the film that provided the most laughs, it’s clearly “Ted 2”, which greatly exceeded my expectations. Runners-up include the updated remake of “Vacation” and Jack Black’s “Goosebumps”.
A film that certainly IS NOT a comedy is “The Martian”. But because star Matt Damon makes a handful of wisecracks to the camera while he’s stuck on Mars, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) has accepted Ridley Scott’s big-budget, blockbuster, all-star, sci-fi, space, action/adventure into the Best Comedy category for the Golden Globes. Traditionally it’s not unusual for a touch of humor to be infused into more serious films to ease the dramatic tension. A few recent examples of this include “The Descendants”, “Philomena” and “Saving Mr. Banks”. “American Hustle” and “Silver Linings Playbook” are two other examples, and you may recall, the Golden Globes qualified them as comedies as well. And they’re allowing “Joy,” director David O. Russell’s third collaboration with Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, also to be considered a comedy, even though many who’ve already seen the late December release say it’s clearly a drama.
And J-Law’s a lock for a nomination. Lily Tomlin’s character in the 78-minute “Grandma” is a bit wacky though the movie mostly doesn’t try to make you laugh. Nonetheless, she and Lawrence will likely fill two of the five Lead Actress in a Comedy or Musical slots – taking positions away from the much more deserving Hathaway, McCarthy, Schumer and/or Streep.
One of the worst mistakes the Hollywood Foreign Press Association ever made was with 2011’s “My Week with Marilyn”. While I’m glad Michelle Williams was recognized with a statue for her performance, watching the Marilyn Monroe character physically and psychologically suffer was NOT FUNNY. That movie was NOT a comedy in any possible way.
Deciding which category films should be submitted into has become a major game for studios and PR agencies, as they try to push their films and stars into the categories where they think they have the best chance of winning, not where they truly belong. You also see a lot of category abuse between the Best Actor/Supporting Actor categories. No one is playing along with this charade more than the Globes though the Critics Choice Movie Awards fell into the trap last year. When they named “The Grand Budapest Hotel” the year’s Best Comedy, over real members of the genre – “Birdman” (a legit dark comedy) and the highly entertaining “22 Jump Street”.
One thing’s for sure: when I fill out my Critics Choice ballot next week, “The Martian” won’t be anywhere on it, whether it’s considered to be a Comedy, Drama, Action, Sci-Fi/Horror, Foreign-Language, Documentary or Animated film.
Jackson Murphy (a.k.a. Lights-Camera-Jackson) has been a film critic/entertainment reporter on TV and radio since the age of 7 1/2. He currently appears weekly on WFLY radio (Albany, NY) and his reviews appear in The Record (Troy, NY) newspaper.
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