The 2020 Golden Globes Were Confusingly Boring, Ricky Gervais’ Roasting Be Damned
Phenomenal speeches from Tom Hanks, Kate McKinnon, and Michelle Williams could not save a snoozy night as Hollywood’s drunken party got jarringly sober.
The most pressing existential questions in Hollywood today went unanswered in Sunday night’s Golden Globe ceremony, which was predictable, expedient, and maybe a tad boring, to the point that even a meandering, heavily bleeped Joaquin Phoenix acceptance speech came across as more expected than nerve-wracking or controversial.
By the time Gervais bid adieu to the stars in the Beverly Hilton ballroom—“Get drunk. Take your drugs. Fuck off.”—the faux-shock value had tarnished and the kiss-off hardly detonated like the bomb to Tinseltown egos it was likely intended to be.
In other words, the Golden Globes were... fine.
The winners were mostly decent, hardly as ludicrous as those the Hollywood Foreign Press is notorious for choosing. 1917 and Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood are solid Best Picture winners. Fleabag, Succession, and Chernobyl are solid TV category winners. Joaquin Phoenix, Renée Zellweger, Laura Dern, and Brad Pitt are solid acting winners.
The surprises were mostly good, like Taron Egerton winning for his sensational work as Elton John in Rocketman and Awkwafina being recognized for her revelatory work in the extremely great The Farewell.
Ramy Youssef winning the first Golden Globe of the night for his groundbreaking show Ramy was a delightful start to the evening (though it seemed like a decade passed between the moment and when the telecast wrapped): “I know you guys haven’t seen my show. Everyone is like, ‘Is this an editor?’”
The speeches were almost uniformly good, with even the cringey ones not as cringey as we’re used to, despite how many names Zellweger was hellbent on slowly reciting. Winners evoked politics just enough. They endorsed causes with personal, eloquent pleas, and Donald Trump went unmentioned until nearly two-thirds through the show, courtesy of Patricia Arquette, who won for her work in Hulu’s The Act.
Ricky Gervais was Ricky Gervais, for better and worse.
In that respect, this year’s Golden Globes raised a new existential question for Hollywood. What happens when Hollywood’s drunken party becomes just another boring award show?
Ricky Gervais opened the show and did his Ricky Gervais thing. If you hire a smarmy jackass and he acts like a smarmy jackass, then presumably you’ve gotten a return on investment.
He poked and prodded at the privilege and hypocrisy of the rich and famous, though his iron may be too dull at this point to stoke real fire. The bit doesn’t have the same edge, with more rolled eyes than wide eyes at the material in the numerous cutaways to unamused celebrities in the audience.
Calling out the industry to its face will always be fun to witness. Gervais calling it a big year for pedophile movies, “with Surviving R. Kelly, Leaving Neverland, and The Two Popes,” earned a heh. A bleeped joke about Cats star Dame Judi Dench licking her vagina earned a gasp. Mocking Hollywood’s ties to Jeffrey Epstein has earned headlines already.
The danger may not have been there, but some decent chuckles were. It’s hardly shocking to hear Gervais roasting the hypocrisy of actors for feigning “wokeness” while counting dollars and vacation homes when he’s made similar jokes four times before in that very venue in front of those very same celebrities. But it’s still inherently funny, if just a little.
That he implored actors not to make political speeches because they work for problematic corporations like Apple and Amazon just before Jennifer Aniston, who stars in an Apple series, read a speech from an absent Russell Crowe (the one truly bad win of the night, for his work in The Loudest Voice) about climate change was certainly awkward.
But that’s how little impact there is to the Gervais schtick by this point; everyone just moved along as if he hadn’t said anything at all, unfazed. If what he was saying truly made anyone uncomfortable, he wouldn’t keep getting invited back.
If not Gervais, there were three truly spectacular moments from the show which people will remember once the blip of morning-after Globes press dissipates and the dizzying news cycle moves on to the next 12 things.
Kate McKinnon’s tribute to Ellen DeGeneres, winner of the Carol Burnett Award for lifetime achievement in television, was gorgeous, heartfelt, and humorous. “Attitudes change but only because brave people like Ellen jump into the fire and make them change.” It’s a beautiful line. Beyoncé was seen mouthing “that’s beautiful” after she said it, that’s how beautiful it was. It’s also apt of DeGeneres’s legacy.
The TV host and LGBT trailblazer’s speech itself had the kind of goofy-charming, very Ellen quality that we love Ellen for. (Though she didn’t thank her wife, Portia de Rossi! Escándalo!) That DeGeneres is being celebrated at a time when the perception of how she uses her celebrity is being questioned, thanks to McKinnon’s speech, proves there’s a way to recognize and appreciate a person’s work and impact even while personal opinions of them and their behavior evolve.
The night’s other lifetime achievement honor went to Tom Hanks, who won the Cecil B. DeMille Award. One thing I learned about myself Sunday night is that I would listen to Tom Hanks talk graciously about his life and its blessings for hours, the running time of The Irishman, even, and never tire of it. He was so charming, so captivating, and so surprisingly emotional.
Any speech that begins by singing the theme song for The Love Boat followed almost immediately by a man breaking down in tears because he loves his wife and children so much is already perfect in my book. That he would go on to so meaningful talk about the industry and what it means to work hard and simply just be a good person is why Tom Hanks is Tom Hanks. Watching his speech felt like an event.
There also was palpable gravity, like we were witnessing a moment, to Michelle Williams’ acceptance speech for her work in Fosse/Verdon. The actress, who recently announced she is pregnant, used her time to talk about the value of a woman’s right to choose and the role it’s played in her being able to carve out the career she’s had. Her words were stirring. You could see women in the audience gazing at her with appreciation in their eyes.
She ended her speech with: "Women, please vote in your own self-interests. It's what men have been doing for years, which is why the world looks so much like them. Don't forget: we are the largest voting body in this country. Let's make it look more like us." It’s spectacular writing, and one of the best examples of a celebrity making a call for action from the microphone I can remember.
Whether or not actors should be political and make speeches like this is, somehow, still a talking point, as if it hasn’t been happening for as long as these award shows have existed and as if we don’t turn to culture and its creators for the kind of food for thought that shapes, or at least exists alongside, public opinion.
There are great ways to do it, as Williams and Arquette, who also urged people to vote, proved. There are awful ways to do it, as Phoenix, who derided those speeches before urging actors to stop taking private jets to the Palm Springs Film Festival showed—sure, a burn more scorching than anything Gervais said, but also completely unnecessary. But actors shouldn’t be put on blast for doing it at all.
There were other fleeting highlights, like Sacha Baron Cohen calling out Mark Zuckerberg, and Olivia Colman cooing “Fleabag. Yay!” in her speech, a forever mood. But if the Golden Globes built its reputation on boisterousness and outrageousness, and certainly peculiar taste, then this year’s ceremony hardly delivered on that.
It’s interesting that a rather sober year comes at a time when the celebrities themselves seem keener than ever to bring a certain seriousness to all endeavors. It’s certainly noteworthy that the telecast aired the night before Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial begins, illustrating just how much has changed, even if there’s still so much farther to go.
Does that mean that the Globes is having an identity crisis? Are the Globes still the Globes if they’re not crazy? Does boring mean bad? Shouldn’t this, theoretically be a good thing, that an award show rewarded good people and projects and people gave respectable speeches?
Yet more unanswerable questions.