A bit of gratitude. A little joy. Some whimsy. A sense of humor. We ask so little from our Golden Globes broadcast each year, and yet often we find ourselves dragged into a smug lecture, incongruously angry political diatribes, unasked-for tutelage. Occasionally, embarrassingly for all involved, someone actually takes the thing seriously, and a nation averts its eyes out of politeness. It’s just a Golden Globe, for heaven’s sake.
The Golden Globe is a tacky trifle handed out by a toadying cabal of showbiz hangers-on who barely qualify for the title “journalist.” The event was considered so minor and so tinged with corruption that for years it wasn’t even broadcast on network television. A Globe should be greeted with the same respect as one of MTV’s moonman trophies. If that. Rachel Brosnahan, the star of Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, keeps hers on top of her toilet. The ideal winner will have consumed a couple of glasses of champagne and let it rip. As Warren Beatty famously said, the Oscars are business but the Golden Globes are fun.
So it was a ghastly interlude when Sandra Oh, co-hosting with Andy Samberg, actually misted up while surveying the room. The moment was uncomfortable. Was Oh leading up to something funny? If so, it would have been the first funny thing either of them had said during the evening. But there was no punchline. Oh was tightly wrapping herself up in the notion that it constituted some kind of civil-rights breakthrough that Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther were nominated for Best Picture. (So were BlackKklansman and If Beale Street Could Talk.) As if the average American of color couldn’t feel truly free until Spike Lee and Constance Wu were invited to a dinner party in a Beverly Hills hotel. Is Oh aware that about 94 percent of Americans weren’t even watching the Golden Globes, much less looking to it for moral inspiration, and that the roughly 18 million Americans who did tune in were doing so for sparkly frocks, star charisma, and general clowning? “I see you. All these faces of change. And now so will everyone else,” Oh gravely intoned. Brosnahan, of Mrs. Maisel, praised her show as a “matriarchy,” seemingly insulting the many men who work on it, but at least the director had the wit to cut to the man in the audience who actually signs Brosnahan’s checks, Jeff Bezos. Patricia Arquette exclaimed, “Woman D.P.! Bring it!” As though the audience knows what a D.P. is or cares about the sex of the director of photography of Arquette’s miniseries, Escape at Dannemora. Patricia Clarkson praised her director Jean-Mark Vallée for not demanding sex from her. Clarkson is 59 years old.
The evening’s least convincing moment of progressive chest-thumping arrived when Brad Simpson, the producer of FX’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, made a spectacularly contrived attempt to grasp the mantle of the anti-Trump resistance in accepting the trophy for best miniseries or TV movie. The story of a gay fashion designer’s murder by a gay serial killer somehow struck him as a lesson about the evils of homophobia and border enforcement. “Gianni Versace was killed 20 years ago [sic: 21]. He was one of the very few public figures who was out during a time of intense hate and fear,” Simpson said, of those dark days of the second Clinton administration. “Those forces of hate and fear are still with us. They tell us we should be scared of people who are different than us. They tell us we should put walls around ourselves.” Well, er, Gianni Versace did have walls around the massive Miami compound where he was murdered. He was killed on his own front steps by an intruder, which doesn’t exactly seem like a parable about the benefits of open borders.
Still, at least Hollywood didn’t spend the entire evening being dour and self-important, and this was a relief after last year’s bizarre combination of valedictory and funeral, in which the actresses wore black to indicate that they were sad about their industry’s endemic sexual assault, albeit not sad enough not to vamp and preen as usual. Some wore $380 “poverty is sexist” sweaters or brought domestic workers and hip-hop activists as their dates to maintain their construct of moral superiority to the rest of us.
The most amusing winners last night were the ones who remembered that an entertainer’s job is to entertain. Christian Bale, winning Best Actor (Musical or Comedy) honors for Vice, is brilliant as Dick Cheney and was hilarious in his speech, delivered in a disarming lower-middle-class British accent. “Thank you to Satan for giving me inspiration on how to play this role,” he said, noting that his director Adam McKay “had to find somebody who can be absolutely charisma-free and reviled by everybody. And he went, ‘Ah, it’s got to be Bale in it.’ Thank you, and for all the competition, I will be cornering the market on charisma-free a******s. What do you think, Mitch McConnell next? That would be good.” This was nasty, and political (in an evening in which Donald Trump’s name went mercifully unmentioned), but it had the benefit of being funny. Bale was having a good time. He was letting it rip. We’ll stipulate that he and I don’t vote for the same politicians, but he’s welcome at NR’s next keg party.
Actual self-deprecation such as Bale’s jibe at his own (supposed) lack of charisma is alarmingly rare at Hollywood awards shows, but when it occurs it’s usually a Brit who delivers it, which is why Brits should always win rather than such sanctimonious Americans as Glenn Close, who broke down in tears about her own struggle to make the soapy, dopey drama The Wife, about a woman who secretly ghost-wrote her Nobel-prize-winner husband’s books. This was Close’s third Golden Globe win. By your third win you should be at least twice as mischievous as Bale was (for his second).
Yet one American did manage to balance emotion and good humor in a freewheeling speech that was heartfelt without being mawkish: Jeff Bridges, capturing the Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award, went full Dude in a strange but wonderful series of remarks in which he thanked by name his directors (the Coen brothers, Michael Cimino, Peter Bogdanovich — who “kicked the whole party off for me, man”). Cimino, whose first film was Bridges’ Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and who later won an Oscar for The Deer Hunter, reassured the actor when he wanted to bail on the film: “Jeff, you know the game tag? . . . You’re it. You are the guy. You couldn’t make a mistake if you wanted to.” That proved an amusing segue into the very Dude-ian remark, “You know, I’ve been tagged. I guess we all have been tagged, right? We’re all alive. Right here, right now! This is happening. We’re alive.” Far out, man! Bridges moved on to an unexpected disquisition about R. Buckminster Fuller (whom Bridges called “Bucky”), saying that the little rudder, or trim tab, on a ship’s rudder steers the big rudder, which steers the ship. “All of us are trim tabs. We might seem like we’re not up to the task, but we are, man. We’re alive! We can make a difference! We can turn this ship in the way we wanna go, man!” That’s the Hollywood we want: grateful, funny, whimsical wackjobs. Enjoy yourselves, you Dudes, instead of imploring us to take you seriously.