Once again, the Golden Globe Awards nominated a handful (okay, this year it was two handfuls) of "comedies" that feel like anything but. Amid another wave of "that's a comedy??" indignation, maybe it's time to admit that genre distinctions have become too blurry to function.
Here are the films that the Hollywood Foreign Press designated as comedies this year: Her, Nebraska, Inside Llewyn Davis, The Wolf of Wall Street, American Hustle, August: Osage County, Before Midnight. The most comedic films in the three categories they have designated for the genre of human mirth and laughter are Enough Said and Frances Ha, which come from auteur directors like Nicole Holofcener and Noah Baumbach and which thread a good deal of melancholy through their films. So nothing on the Globes ballot today reflects "comedy" as defined by mainstream American filmmaking. The kind of films produced by Judd Apatow, say.
Funnily enough, Apatow had something to say on this issue:
I think GG should change the category to best musical or comedy which isn't actually that funny at all but is just an awesome movie.— Judd Apatow (@JuddApatow) December 12, 2013
How about 'best musical or movie that thinks the comedy category would be easier to win than the drama category because of 12 Years A Slave'— Judd Apatow (@JuddApatow) December 12, 2013
Okay, beyond the fact that it's always the comedy people who seem to take awards season so seriously, at least out in public, Apatow manages to smartass his way to a good point. Not the one about more easily defeating 12 Years a Slave; if anything, this year's Musical/Comedy category is more competitive than Drama. But "Musical or Comedy That Isn't Actually Funny But Is Just an Awesome Movie" actually gets to the point far better. Every one of the above-mentioned movies has comedic elements, even the ones that probably should be dramas. Some of them even have comedic structures. But they all ride so close to the comedy/drama line that they stop being what most audiences expect their comedies to be: laugh-producers.
Maybe that's the answer: Divide things into Best Comedy (or Best Serio-Comedy) and Funniest Movie. Funniest Movie would almost certainly not include any of this year's Globe nominees. But it would make room for The Heat and (though it hasn't opened yet so who knows?) Anchorman 2 and The World's End and This Is the End (you know, in theory, if This Is the End were a good movie and not hot ego-tripping garbage). Comedy is a slighted genre, and if this year's Globe nominations prove anything, it's that when voters are faced with choosing between serio-comedies and laugh factories, they will go for the serio-comedy every time. Further restricting their options -- essentially handcuffing them to a chair until they nominate broad, laugh-producing comedies -- would at least result in the kind of nominations that Apatow would approve of.
Of course, this only leads to more definition and categorization, which is always going to be a problem. Where does a movie like The Bling Ring stand? Or Spring Breakers? Both movies that had audiences laughing, but both were as concerned with their big ideas -- ideas from the minds of serio-comic auteurs Sofia Coppola and Harmony Korine -- than with delivering jokes. Do those not qualify for Funniest Movie because they have Serious Movie DNA? At some point, doesn't Funniest Movie just ends up devolving to Best Movie Starring Members of the Judd Apatow Stable? Maybe Sofia Coppola can write that tweet.
Ultimately, you can adjust your definitions all you want, but without voters who are willing to prize funny over serious, or to realize that silly and smart can be the same thing sometimes, you're always going to end up with nominees that blur the lines. Maybe it's just more honest to get rid of the lines altogether.