A Star Is Born Has An Awards Show Identity Complex

Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures.
Given previous iterations’ track records, A Star Is Born should be strutting into the 2019 Golden Globes with the unshakable confidence of Danny Zuko of Grease walking into an EDM concert in the year 2018. Sure, his style is a bit outdated. Sure, his heyday was in the ‘50s. But damn: The guy’s still got it.
In past years, A Star Is Born has fared splendidly – nay, envy-inspiringly well — at the Golden Globes. The 1954 version saw Judy Garland and James Mason walk away with twin best acting awards. Perfectly respectable, but it was in 1976 that A Star Is Born really flexed. The movie won in five major categories, including Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy, Best Actress and Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy, and Best Original Song. Since the original incarnation of A Star Is Born came out in 1937, before the Globes even existed, it’s exempt from the tally, though the movie was nominated for seven Oscars, winning two.
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If the adage about history repeating itself is really true, then Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, the stars of the 2018 A Star Is Born, would essentially be guaranteed Best Actor and Best Actress awards — were it not for one little change. Warner Bros. has decided to submit A Star Is Born for Golden Globe consideration as a drama, not as a musical/comedy.
But, you ask, isn’t a A Star Is Born clearly a musical, featuring brand-new songs and Lady Gaga’s Shallow yelp? Not quite. A Star Is Born is a dramatic movie that happens to feature music. Not quite a musical. Not quite a drama, according to past Golden Globes. Where does such a creature belong?
A Star Is Born’s identity problem is exacerbated by the Golden Globes’ confounding Musical/Comedy category itself. The Golden Globes’ lumps musicals in with comedies, as if all musicals were rendered light-hearted by their inclusion of song, as if music were inherently funny. Is the sepia-toned Inside Llewyn Davis, which follows a down-on-his-luck folk singer (Oscar Isaac) during a winter week in New York, chock full ‘o laughs? Not really, but since it features so many musical performances, it landed a spot in the musical/comedy category in 2013. Is Walk the Line, a movie about Johnny and June Cash’s troubled relationship, a laugh fest? No, but it won Best Motion Picture - Musical/Comedy in 2005, and went on to win multiple Oscars.
Granted, the Golden Globes’ Musical/Comedy sorting process is fuzzy overall — not just with musicals. To demonstrate, here are some other (non-musical) movies that have fallen under the Musical/Comedy category: The Martian, Pride and Prejudice, The Tourist, Thank You for Smoking, and Her. These movies aren’t purely funny, but they were all submitted as comedies.
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Still, the majority of the movies in that small selection of not-so-funny “musical/comedies” are still funnier than A Star Is Born, which brings us to — drumroll, please — The Case For A Star Is Born Being a Drama. When A Star Is Born movie premiered in 1937, the story centered on an aspiring actress and a has-been actor. There were no original songs to be heard. In 1954, the leading lady’s aspirations changing from acting to singing, rendering A Star Is Born a “musical.” Then, in the 1976 version, the leads became rock stars. In each version, the devastating storyline remained dramatic and touched on subjects of substance abuse and mental health.
Dramatic matter aside, A Star Is Born isn’t even a conventional musical, in the sense that the movie’s characters don’t express their emotions in spontaneous songs which in turn further the narrative. Technically speaking, A Star Is Born is a diegetic musical — all of the songs exist in the “real world.” Compare that to a number in The Greatest Showman, which was nominated in the Musical/Comedy category at the 2017 Golden Globes, in which Michelle Williams’ character explains her love for her husband (Hugh Jackman) in a surreal ballad only she can hear (non-diegetic). Aside from Ally’s (Lady Gaga) soaring “Is That Alright,” which plays over a montage of the couple’s wedding footage, Jackson and Ally only sing in the context of performance. The same is true for Walk the Line and Inside Llewyn Davis, other films in this gray territory. Broadly speaking, these movies are more “musical dramas” than they are musicals.
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A Star Is Born isn’t the only "musical drama” to challenge the Golden Globe category structure this year. 20th Century Fox is submitting Bohemian Rhapsody, the Freddie Mercury biopic starring Rami Malek, in the Golden Globes Drama category. Like all award show sortings, these are a strategic plays. A win in either the Best Drama or Best Musical/Comedy can catapult a movie toward Oscar buzz territory — but statistically speaking, a victory in Best Drama will better guarantee an Oscars win.
Though the Golden Globes are, historically, not the greatest predictor of Oscar wins (especially compared to the significant overlap between the SAG Awards’ Outstanding Performance by a Cast and the Oscars’ Best Picture). According to Walt Hickey of FiveThirtyEight, about half of Golden Globes’ Best Drama winners go on to receive the Academy Award for Best Picture. In comparison, in the past 25 years, only three Golden Globe winners in the Musical/Comedy category have done so (the most recent being The Artist in 2010, a win fueled in part by Harvey Weinstein’s notorious award show machinations). If A Star Is Born is aiming for an Academy Award, not pure Golden Globes glory, then Drama is the way to go.
So, perhaps the players behind A Star Is Born believe the movies' odds for winning accolades are higher in the Drama category. Or, maybe they're proud. Whether deliberate or not, A Star Is Born’s distinct category submission also emphasizes the myth that a dramatic movie is inherently more prestigious than a comedy or a musical. As in, not only does the placement in the “drama” category indicate a film contains serious subject matter — it’s a code word for that film being taken more seriously as a work of art, too.
Recent Oscar-nominated movies in the Musical/Comedy Category, like Lady Bird and Birdman (which went on to win Best Picture at the 2015 year Academy Awards), challenge the notion that drama is inherently better than comedy. But for now, A Star Is Born is aiming to play the awards show circuit the traditional way. Being the fourth remake of a classic movie about show business, it’s only fitting.
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