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Golden Globes 2020: Hollywood Laughs at all the Wrong Things

Despite the acute awareness that Hollywood award shows are barely relevant anymore, I have stayed embarrassingly up to date with any nominations, EGOT or not, for years now. So naturally, this year's “maybe-the-weirdest-yet” Golden Globes nominations piqued my interest. From the painfully unironic nominations for 'Emily in Paris', to the overwhelming whiteness of nominees, there seems to be little to look forward to. My deepest-rooted, most personal issue lies coincidentally in my guilty-pleasure favourite: the categories concerning comedies and musicals. This year, I’m focusing on the category of 'Best Motion Picture: Musical or Comedy', which managed to come off as embarrassingly irrelevant and yet surprisingly offensive.

The five nominees are gracelessly led by Sia’s infamous new production, 'Music', which created a backlash so loud the Globes can hardly pretend they missed it. Other titles include the new 'Borat', which is as hard to enjoy for anyone over the age of 14 as the 2006 original, this time with a disturbing paedophilic spin. There’s 'Prom' - Netflix musical-comedy about queer people which came some twenty years too late, and 'Hamilton', a recording of a 2015 Broadway sensation, and respectively not, in any way, shape, or form a 2020 movie. And then there’s this time-loop romcom with Andy Samberg.

So I watched all of the 'Best Motion Picture: Musical or Comedy' nominees, so you don’t have to, and I’m giving my less than asked for opinions.

1. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (Amazon Studios; Four by Two Films)

Borat’s trailer itself doesn’t leave much doubt about its general quality, but the extent of the film’s badness still managed to throw me off. Borat, a Kazahki journalist, goes to the US to discover the internet, women’s rights, and conspiracy theories. His main objective is to sell his 15-year-old daughter to the US 'ruling class' pedophiles to gain some sort of vague political advantage for his country’s leader, and avoid death penalty (since January 2021, abolished in only one of the aforemntioned countries). My note on everything that bothered me (from the ridiculous portrayal of Kazakhstan to bizarre directing choices) has 48 bullet points, and I still can’t figure out why exactly was this thing made in the first place. Was it to comment on how the Americans like to look down on other countries despite being kind of stupid themselves? Was it a satire on the political condition of the US? Whatever sophisticated message the producers think they are sending (“Republicans stupid?”;“Trump bad?”), could have been said in hundreds of less disturbing ways.

One good thing: The only scene that made me chuckle - Borat’s daughter whining “Why do American men hate me?” Big same.

One bad thing: Borat uses issues like sex trafficking, incest, sects, fascism, paedophilia, anti-Semitism, racism, gendered violence, immigration and human rights law violations for cheap laughs in a way that’s just painful to watch. It plays into stereotypes about Eastern Europeans that really make our lives so much harder. Call me an uptight leftie, but this humour is not where I would want the popular culture to go.

2. Hamilton (Disney +; 5000 Broadway Productions)

What is there to say about Hamilton that hasn’t been said twelve times over already? It’s a good musical. You know how it goes: there’s the Original Broadway Cast Recording on Spotify, the entire first act told in animation on YouTube, the documentary, tens of thousands of behind-the-scenes clips, that one time they sang for Obamas, the Jefferson-Miku-Binder collective fever dream…yeah. The production’s approach to American history is somewhat problematic, but the message it sends is heartfelt, and we’ve been down this rabbit hole enough times since its premiere in 2015, so let’s leave it at that. Along with probably half of the people who watched the new motion picture, I already saw the original stage production more times that I care to admit, courtesy of some nameless working class hero who recorded the whole thing on his phone from his eleventh row seat on Broadway. It’s Hamilton: Yes, Again, But This Time You Can See Their Faces.

One good thing: No one in good conscience can say it’s a bad production. It’s a brilliant production. The music, the lights, the already iconic costumes, the acting, the directing. It’s all objectively good.

One bad thing: It’s a 2015 Broadway Production, and the new motion picture does literally nothing that hasn’t already been done, over and over, in theatres all around the globe, for the last 6 years.

3. Palm Springs (Limelight/Lonely Island Classics; Hulu)

Palm Springs is a new romantic comedy, in which a reluctant maid of honour accidentally gets herself stuck in a time-loop, doomed to relive the day of her sister’s wedding over and over again. She shares this fate with one Andy Samberg, and, you guessed it, they fall in love. We get to see them experiencing a nihilistic spiral (to their credit - in their specific scenario, nothing really matters), ruin the wedding more times to count, and commit a suicide or two. The story is somewhat tired, with it’s boy-meets-girl-meets-Groundhog Day flare, but it manages to make its own spin on the known and loved romcom structure. Honestly, it’s better than it has the right to be. Two main characters, Nyles and Sarah, are both sufficiently complex, and their relationship is engaging enough to make you think - about loneliness, companionship, and the point of it all, in only a slightly cliche way.

One good thing: This one line where Sarah looks Nyles in the eye and says “I can survive just fine without you” during their love declaration, is a neat break from the co-dependency romcoms tend to preach.

One bad thing: The “the woman saving the man from himself” trope. Sarah does it in a very badass way, but it’s still the same, overused dynamic.

4. The Prom (Netflix)

Imagine a simple Venn diagram with two circles; one is labelled “gay”, and the other one is labelled “homophobic”. Netflix’s adaptation of the 2019 Broadway musical is perfectly at their intersection. The Prom is an oversimplified and unintentionally stereotyped attempt at representing queer people that would probably pass as progressive in the early 2000s. Somewhere in Indiana, a teenage girl can’t take her girlfriend to prom because of the homophobia in their hometown. Somewhere in New York, Broadway stars who refuse to admit their time has passed need good press. The movie's token activism, motivated mostly by financial gain and need for “woke points”, as well as lack of real effort to understand ordinary queer people’s struggles and needs, causes more chaos and complication than anything else. The funniest thing about the movie is its absolute lack of self-awareness.

One good thing: The music is cute, but since it’s all taken from a Broadway production, I’m not sure how much credit the movie can take for it.

One bad thing: James Corden as the Effeminate Gay Man, a portrayal that’s very 1990s at best and a straight up mockery at worst, and the fact that he got his own 'Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy' nomination for it.

5. Music (Pineapple Lasagne Productions / Landay Entertainment; Imax)

As most people with functioning internet connection have probably vaguely heard, the problem with Music lies not in its production quality or artistic values, but the extremely ableist notes underlying both the production process, and the final product. Sia’s passion project focuses on a non-vocal autistic girl, and the movie generated an enormous backlash when it became clear that it was created with cooperation from an essentially anti-autism foundation 'Autism Speaks'. The production uses outdated terminology, depicts outdated and harmful methods of managing the disorder, and uses the storyline of its titular character exclusively to enhance the arc of the neurotypical protagonist. Sia’s twitter entries on the topic include dismissing concerned voices from autistic activists and admitting to hiring a non-verbal actress, creating a distressing environment for her, and then firing her when she was unable to adapt. I watched the movie in a semi-legal way that doesn’t bring it any profits. Having minimal knowledge about this background makes sitting through the whole run impossible. Debating the artistic pros and cons of a piece that is blatantly harmful, disrespectful, and dangerous for the vulnerable people it claims to represent, and profits off of, would be entirely disrespectful.

Comedies and musicals have always been my problematic favourites of the movie industry. Accessible, easily digestible, and generally feel-good, they can challenge social norms and ridicule oppressive power structures without overbearing the audience, if cleverly done. That seemed to be the trend, from Monty Python to Taika Waititi; comedy slowly outgrows its tendency to punch down. Instead, it becomes a bitter voice of the unheard, provides a new lens to look through, or points out the ever-present absurdity of the modern times. The Golden Globes, with their many flaws, seemed to have recognised that as well. In the last 15 years, the winners of the 'Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy' category were sharp, innovative, and enjoyable (with the fair exception of The Hangover).

This year's nominees took me on an involuntary trip 20 years back in time.

In preparing to this marathon, I hoped to finish with a prediction, but I genuinely have no idea what to tell you. Personally, I’m crossing my fingers for Palm Springs. It offers little that you haven’t seen before, but it’s entertaining, somewhat fresh, and the only title that managed not to annoy me once in its entire 90 minutes run. Logically, I think Hamilton will take the prize, as it’s been almost six years, and there are very few things Hamilton did not win.

And I know what you’re thinking - it’s been a tough year for cinema. That’s a perfectly valid point. It's been a tough year, period.

But… was film and tv that bad? There certainly were other movies made, and the Globes are aware of them. There’s The Personal History of David Copperfield, a take on Dickens’ timeless classic on social class, coming of age, and the meaning of family, led by the brilliant (and nominated!) Dev Patel. The new Emma, this time directed by a woman (Autumn de Wilde), is full of effortless charm, and led by everyone’s favourite (nominated!) Anya Taylor-Joy. I’ve never heard of I Care A Lot before the Globes nominated Rosamund Pike for it, and it’s no Gone Girl, but it’s a fun, gripping watch. My next cinema destination (sorry, UK) is French Exit, with (nominated!) Michelle Pfeiffer. All of these films have their flaws, obviously, but I refuse to believe that they are any worse than a sad American Pie knock off, or the most problematic ableist production of the year.

The 78th Golden Globes Awards are to take place on Sunday February 28th, (March 1st, 1AM UK Time). For the first time in history, the ceremony will be held online. I will most probably stay up to watch, out of sheer curiosity and the sentiment for the host duo of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, but I’m not getting my hopes up. This year, in the category of 'Musical or Comedy', we all already lost.


Edited by Ketki Mahabaleshwarkar, Deputy Editor-in-Chief


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