Neither Deadpool nor star Ryan Reynolds are likely to take home the trophy for their respective Golden Globe nominations on Sunday. Yet the fact that the second highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time, let alone a comic book adaptation, scored two nominations says a lot about the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s current take on comedy. After all, the Best Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy and Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy categories are the same ones that last year awarded top honors to The Martian and its lead, Matt Damon. As Spy and Ghostbusters director Paul Feig argued at the time, “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.”
Both The Martian and Damon’s performance in it are quite good, but it hardly fits that definition. It’s a dramatic, science fiction film with elements of adventure, suspense, and humor. But unlike fellow nominees Trainwreck, Spy and The Big Short, The Martian isn’t primarily designed to prompt laughs. Hence why the HFPA amended its categorical definition for comedy with an added sentence to distinguish it from drama: “Thus, for example, dramas with comedic overtones should be entered as dramas.”
Judging by the current Best Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy nominees, it seems the HFPA has put its own rule changes into practice. La La Land and Sing Street scratch the dual category’s musical itch, but 20th Century Women, Florence Foster Jenkins and Deadpool all fit the bill for not being “dramas with comedic overtones,” for the most part. While Deadpool‘s occasional dramatic touches pale in comparison to its comedic quips and action beats, Women and Jenkins balance moments of comedy and drama evenly, which is far more of a balance that what The Martian did before them.
Even so, Jenkins and Women are films whose approach to comedy is closer to The Big Short. Their serious subject matter practically oozes drama, but the filmmakers opted for a more humorous approach. The Big Short addressed the housing market collapse of 2008, which isn’t really a funny topic at all. Yet Adam McKay decided to write and direct a movie about it that included Ryan Gosling’s occasional fourth wall breaks and The Wolf of Wall Street‘s Margot Robbie explaining advanced economics while sitting in a bubble bath, drinking champagne.