Every year a Hollywood Foreign Press Association committee decides that this or that award-quality film should be categorized as a comedy or musical. Their calls are sometimes bizarre, to put it mildly. A story by Hollywood Reporter award-season columnist Scott Feinberg says that Blue Jasmine, for example, will end up in a Musical/Comedy slot because it costars “funnymen” Alec Baldwin, Louis C.K. and Andrew Dice Clay. This for a film that is clearly modelled upon and in many ways resembles A Streetcar Named Desire, one of the great dramatic tragedies of the 20th Century.
Feinberg also foresees the HFPA labelling Before Midnight, Frances Ha, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska and Philomena as comedies — the standard apparently being that if characters in the above films say anything snippy or snarky or sardonic or smartly allusive (which they do on occasion)…anything that results in a slight chortle or guffaw during a screening…they’re comedic. June Squibb briefly flashes her privates in Nebraska? It’s a comedy. The snooty Steve Coogan makes a few smart cracks at Judy Dench‘s expense in Philomena? It’s a laugh riot. I’ve at least agreed with the HFPA in one respect — Joel and Ethan Coen‘s A Serious Man (’09) is definitely a comedy.
The most intriguing notion in Feinberg’s article is the idea (suggested in an 8.25 Mary Kaye Schilling Vulture piece) that Martin Scorsese‘s The Wolf of Wall Street is a dark comedy. Having read the script I can say this observation is at least half-true — there’s definitely something funny about flamboyant swagger and almost gleeful self-destruction by way of bacchanalian sloth. But at the same time Wolf is no more “comedic” than Scorsese’s Goodfellas or Casino were, save for the fact that several characters were brutally iced in those earlier rise-and-fall sagas. All three films are about the exhilaration of success followed by downfall and despair.