HAMMOND: 'Bridesmaids', 'Artist', 'Paris' Try To Buck Oscar's Prejudice Against Comedy; HFPA Says 'The Help' Is Not Funny

Dying is easy, comedy is hard. Someone said that, right?

Judging by the paltry number of “pure” comedies that have won Best Picture Oscars in the past, apparently the Academy doesn’t think it’s hard at all. But could this actually be the year comedy will once again get its due in the Best Picture race? Will we ever see another genuine laugher taken seriously? “It’s crazy when you see what these great comedy people do,” says Bridesmaids producer Judd Apatow. His film was a huge surprise summer hit and has one of the highest critics ratings on Rotten Tomatoes with 90% fresh reviews. That’s a lot better than many dramatic contenders that pundits take more seriously as true Oscar pictures. Broad, hit-‘em-in-the-gut comedy is almost always dismissed.

Apatow told me he was really surprised when Bridesmaids started to become part of the awards conversation this year but now believes they have a shot, at least in some categories — although not daring to dream of Best Picture yet. “We’re very hopeful about Melissa McCarthy in supporting. (Co-writer and star) Kristen Wiig  should get recognition  too. It’s very hard to do what she does,” Apatow said, adding that he thought Zach Galifianakis in The Hangover (which Apatow did not produce) should have been recognized a couple of years ago for the “perfect supporting part” but was obviously overlooked.

Further proving disrespect for comedy in the Acad, Apatow himself was dissed even to become an Academy member until finally getting the invite in 2008. Considering the Academy’s usual reluctance to reward the genre, Wiig is shocked they are even in the hunt, but Bridesmaids is the only movie Universal is significantly campaigning this year. “It’s nuts,” she said. “Recently we were looking at our original draft and thinking the fact people are even talking about it in this way is very strange. But I think ultimately it’s about the story and characters. You have to care about them or you’re not going to care about the movie whether it is comedy or drama.”

Bridesmaids is also hoping for recognition as a Best Picture Comedy or Musical nominee in the Golden Globes, where it actually does have a realistic chance of making the cut (The Hangover actually won). Many have called for the Academy to institute separate categories to honor comedy, like the Globes have always done, but it has never flown.

It is not hard to see why.

Often there’s a very gray line between what constitutes a comedy in the first place.  The Hollywood Foreign Press lets studios determine which categories they want to be in but has final say. In other words, if a studio tries to squeeze J. Edgar into comedy because there is less competition, forget it. This year, there has been lots of discussion among distributors about what constitutes a comedy. Fox Searchlight initially debated whether to enter its George Clooney starrer The Descendants in the Comedy or Musical category because there are definite laughs, but the dramatic elements ruled the day and it is submitted as a drama. Same with Sony’s Moneyball, which had some TV ads with quotes calling it “hilarious.” In the end, it wasn’t that hilarious — it’s in drama.

On the other hand, DreamWorks officially submitted The Help in comedy or musical even though it has some very heavy dramatic moments. On Monday, an HFPA committee rejected it in comedy and determined it would compete as a drama, where it will go head-to-head with Disney/DreamWorks’ other big hopeful, War Horse (assuming both get nominated, as seems likely). It’s not surprising: At a recent event I attended, a lot of HFPA members were voicing concerns about having to judge The Help as a comedy. The film was indeed initially sold by Disney and DreamWorks with an emphasis on its lighter elements, and past Globe winners in the category such as Driving Miss Daisy were similar in tone. Still, that would have meant Viola Davis would compete in the Best Actress-Comedy or Musical category, and no matter how you slice it, her character — a civil rights-era maid — just wasn’t that funny. Other entries that remain in the category that border comedy and drama are Focus Features’ Beginners and Summit’s 50/50, both dealing with main characters with cancer; Paramount’s Young Adult; and The Weinstein Company’s My Week With Marilyn. But the placement seems logical, and their chances against stiff competition in the drama categories would be considerably lessened. Last year, Focus entered the dramedy The Kids Are All Right in the comedy categories and bagged Globes for both the picture and Annette Bening.

It seems unfair that sometimes pure comedies such as this year’s Midnight In Paris, The Artist, The Muppets and Crazy Stupid Love have to share the category with films that also benefit from the kind of heavier subject matter toward which voters tend to gravitate.

As for the Oscars, you can probably count on one hand the number of “real” comedies that have won Best Picture in the last 84 years of the contest. There was It Happened One Night and You Can’t Take It With You in the 1930s, All About Eve in the ’50s, Tom Jones in the ’60s and Annie Hall in the ’70s. I don’t really count movies like The Apartment (1960), which had heavy drama laced within the laughs but was actually a Globe winner in Comedy. The last Golden Globe Comedy or Musical winner to repeat in the Best Picture category at the Oscars was  Chicago in 2002.

This year, there is a real chance that something like the silent comedy The Artist or Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris could join the short list Best Picture winners that really are comedies in intent and execution (even though The Artist has its own dramatic moments). But why is it so rare and why does it take a Woody Allen to do the trick? “I think that it’s very difficult to put comedies and dramas in the same category,” says Midnight In Paris producer Letty Aronson, a longtime Allen collaborator who also happens to be his sister. “Somehow, if you certainly look over the history of the Academy, and not just the Academy but any awards or people’s thoughts, they feel that drama is more important. Certainly awards-wise, dramas get them way out of proportion to comedy. … It would certainly be fairer to everyone to make two distinct categories because it’s not possible — you’re comparing apples to oranges.”

OK, so maybe this is the year Oscar will learn to lighten up a bit.

    1. I think he proves the rule. He had some hilarious stuff early in his career, and still has his moments. However, Jack & Jill looks terrible. Bucky Larsen looked terrible. If someone with that much comedy experience can fail that badly this often, it just proves how hard it must be to make something that is truly funny.

    2. I truly wish that people take comedy more seriously — and give Charlie Day from horrible bosses a best supporting actor nod — not only is it the funniest performance of the year, but one of the best period. Besides, the Academy has awarded Kevin Kline and Alan Arkin for comedy performances. Day deserves it.

  1. Ever since Steve Martin was slighted by the academy for ALL OF ME I saw the oscars as a joke and not for the right reasons

      1. Yes, people Steve Martin deserved Oscar recognition for both Roxanne & All of Me. Eddie Murphy deserved Oscar recognition for the first Nutty Professor & Coming to America. And, of course, Bill Murray’s classic comedic performances. I hate the Academy branch for very rarely recognizing brilliant comedic performances. Drama is more easier than comedy- it is a known fact.

  2. I’m still not sure why we’re talking about Bridesmaids, or ever talked about it, in this sort of “critically acclaimed” light. It was average, at best, and anyone who says it was hilarious wasn’t in the packed, opening weekend theater I was in, in NY. It played to almost total silence, and I feel like people left thinking “well, I don’t care if it was bad, I’m saying it was great because I think we need to stand up for women in comedy!”. Well sorry, but this is the wrong way to do that. The right way would be to actually go out and make something that makes people laugh, is intelligent (see: biggest laugh isn’t someone shitting in the street) and doesn’t play to the same old comedy cliches we’re all tired of. There’s a reason comedies don’t do very well at the box office anymore, and that’s because they aren’t funny. Bridesmaids was the exception to that rule, because it had some weird backing by people who wanted it to be good. That’s the same reason its getting Oscar attention and say, The Change Up isn’t. And that’s a terrible reason. Open your eyes people, it’s just not that good.

    1. couldn’t agree more. I wanted to like it. I think Maya Rudolph is great and Kristen Wiig has had some really funny moments in other movies, but found Bridesmaids to be painfully unfunny, predictable and all-around mediocre.

    2. you’re either lying or you were in a theater filled with mutes

      and apologies if the rest of the world has to get your approval before loving a comedy and we somehow forgot to get that approval for bridesmaids

    3. Dude, that “weird backing by people who wanted it to be good” is mostly likely a genuine feeling that it was good and funny. If you didn’t think BRIDESMAIDS was hilarious, that’s fine. I thought it was too long but still laughed my ass off. Just because you didn’t like it doesn’t mean the rest of us are faking it.

    4. That’s your OPINION, Jeremy. I found it hilarious, as did everyone else I’ve spoken with who has seen the movie.

      Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean your opinion should be considered fact.

    5. I agree. I will be pissed if Melissa McCarthy gets nominated and yet, John Belushi, John Candy nor Chris Farley ever got one for playing the same kind of characters first and better. They are only going ga-ga for her because it’s a woman and that makes it PC.

      1. jbinminot, you made a good point. McCarthy was good in Gilmore Girls & Go. But , I am tired of her fatty, gross, over-the -top schtick. She was beyond annoying in Bridesmaids, and she didn’t deserve her recent Emmy win ( Amy Poehler deserved that Emmy ) . I just get a feeling her EGO is getting out of control.

    6. Agreed, man. Some friends and I saw it on demand a few months ago, and while it was charming and chuckle-worthy overall. It was really nothing special. The engagement party in the beginning where the two women try to upstage each other with speeches was so cringe inducing I almost had to leave the room. Come on Universal, get real.

      1. I agreed, very mediocre at best. Sure it had some laugh out loud moments, but they were few and far between. I have to say that this maybe the most overrated movie of the year.

  3. Bridesmaides was funny. A little long. But some great performances and funny set pieces. Oscar nom? C’mon!

  4. It’s not so much that you have to get my approval or that it’s my opinion but by all objective standards it was not funny. Sorry. People like Bridesmaids for the same reason they like SNL: because other people do and they don’t know any better. Rise above!

  5. Bridesmaids may/may not be funny to everyone, but if you’re not laughing your ass off at it being considered for an Academy Award you really don’t know what’s funny.

    1. true words! Bridesmaids is really overrated. THink about comedy and think about comedies that would toast Bridesmaids in terms of quality but never got even an Oscar brushoff. Ghostbusters. Trading Places. The Big Lebowski. Legally Blonde. Just get ahold of early drafts of the Bridesmaids script. The structure, dialogue and arcs were tantamount to what comes out of a horse’s back end. Execrable. The polishes that were done — and I am not sure who did them — were incredible considering what the original crap, er, writing was. A shame, cause I think Wiig is really talented and full of potential.

  6. I loved Bridesmaids and paid to see it twice. I think it might be my favorite Apatow film. Certainly it’s a better direction for him than to waste his time and reputation on the Pee Wee Herman project. I wouldn’t mind seeing a Bridesmaids 2, 3, 4, etc. There are a lot of women in that cast. They all need weddings!

  7. Judd Apatow should have his Academy membership revoked for the material he and his hand-picked writing team wrote for last year’s broadcast.

  8. I don’t quite understand what made Bridesmaids so special.

    In my opinion the movie was just painful. The the Speech at the beginning, to Kristen Wigg getting kicked off the plane. And a Pooping Scene, come on this isn’t high school.

    I honestly thought that Kristen Wigg was going to kill herself at some part in the film. Just painful

  9. The problem really comes when movies that are niether comedy, musical or drama start getting nominated.

    Case in point: R.E.D and The Tourist. Both of which were action thrillers. In the same year Alice in Wonderland got nominated despite being a fantasy epic akin to Chronicles of Narnia.

    Sherlock Holmes previously won a golden globe in a comedic category despite being sold as a period adventre/mystery.

  10. Rule of Thumb in Hollywood: If black people are in it, it’s a comedy. HFPA were right to put The Help into drama. Hollywood assumes all black movies are comidies.

  11. I was inclined to say it probably would be a good thing if the Oscars would launch a ‘Best Comedy’ award, if only to be able to reward more films. But given the discussion, it’s true that it’s not always easy to categorize them. The best comedies usually also have some drama, and vice-versa. I disagree, for instance, that The Artist is a comedy. Yes, it has many comic moments, but it’s also a moving drama – a bit like Charlie Chaplain’s The Kid. They’re not all that hard to pigeon-hole, of course, but it would sure bring on a lot of headaches.

    (That said, I do agree that Bridesmaids was trite and tacky!)

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