The romantic comedy genre has always had its female stars that would hop from film to film and grow a rabid fanbase. Even still, these women would get acclaim. Julia Roberts has four Oscar nominations and one win, one nomination from one of the greatest and most traditional romantic comedies, Pretty Woman. Kate Hudson grasped her role as rom com Queen following an Oscar nomination. Renee Zellweger began her Oscar journey for the rom com Bridget Jones Diary. In fact, the very reason Sandra Bullock won her Oscar for The Blind Side due in part to her illustrious romantic comedy career.
However, Oscar is much less kind to the male rom com star. Take for example the collaborator of both Roberts and Bullock, Hugh Grant, the subject of this column today. He’s been a movie star for over twenty years, and nary an Oscar nom to show for it. Similar rom com star Richard Gere is also nomination-less. Part of the narrative of Matthew McConaughey’s Oscar win for The Dallas Buyers Club was due, in part, to him shaking off and denigrating his rom com career. The fact that Hugh Grant continued to hone his craft as a rom com star could be what led him to never hear his named called on Oscar nomination morning. What a shame that is, after many worthy performances.
Hugh Grant perhaps came closest to a nomination in 1994 for his star making role as the lead in Four Weddings and a Funeral. In fact, this topic came up during the latest episode of the Circuit Breaker podcast when discussing the ACCA 1994 nominations. As Charles, Grant was appropriately charming, but that sells his performance short. It’s rare to exhibit such star quality, something that is undervalued amongst many critics, and the Academy voting body, when it comes to male stars in “female” films.
While that might not have made it a shocker that Grant didn’t make the Oscar cut, what does make it a shocker is the fact that Four Weddings and a Funeral pulled out a surprise Best Picture nomination over more Academy fare such as Bullets Over Broadway, Legends of the Fall, The Madness of King George and Nobody’s Fool, among others. Grant also attracted attention that year from awards bodies. He won the BAFTA for Best Actor and was nominated at the Golden Globes. While the Best Actor lineup was strong that year, it could be conceivable to think Grant had a dark horse shot of knocking more traditional picks, such as Nigel Hawthorne for The Madness of King George or Paul Newman for Nobody’s Fool.
The more maddening snub, to me, is not getting proper traction for the 2002 film About a Boy. Grant plays Will, a lothario slacker living off a one hit wonder who discovers how to try again after becoming friend with a picked upon child, Marcus (Nicholas Hoult). The film was able to pick up a surprise Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, but couldn’t muster anything more for Grant in Best Actor. Michael Caine (The Quiet American) was vulnerable, but not enough for Grant to squeak in. He perfected his persona as a lovable cad in this film and got the chance to show a good amount of range. More than that, he nailed a tricky arc for Will that only became more interesting as the film went on. Unfortunately, with a Golden Globe nomination being his only major precursor, an upset nomination wasn’t likely.
Despite being in many a romantic comedy, Grant was no stranger to big Oscar films. One of his earlier major roles came in The Remains of the Day. In 1993, that film garnered eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. From there it was Best Picture nominee Four Weddings and a Funeral. The year following, he was in his third Best Picture nominee in a row, Sense and Sensibility. As Edwards Ferrars, Grant got a more traditionally bait-y Oscar role as a suitor in a well regarded period piece. Both his co-stars Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet got nominated and the film won Best Adapted Screenplay. On top of that, Grant was honored at the SAG Awards when the film won the Best Ensemble award. Still, it was not enough to get him the coveted nomination.
After the Best Picture hat trick, Grant rocketed to matinee idol in a string of big hits. His biggest role to date was in 1999 with Notting Hill, co-starring Julia Roberts. The film followed a small bookstore owner who falls for a big movie star. The film grossed $116 million domestic and $363 million worldwide and even netted Grant a Golden Globe nomination. After that, in 2001, he starred in the sleeper hit Bridget Jones’ Diary as the mischievous Daniel Cleaver. Not only did it gross $71 million domestic and $281 worldwide, it was able to net Renee Zellweger a surprise Oscar nomination, but none for Grant. His next hit was 2002’s Two Weeks Notice with Sandra Bullock. A pivotal role in the ensemble hit Love Actually followed. In it, Grant was the Prime Minister. Further rom coms and fewer headlines of acclaim followed.
Strangely enough Grant might have come closest to an Oscar nomination, but not in acting. In the February 2007 romantic comedy Music and Lyrics, Grant plays Alex Fletcher. Fletcher is a haughty 80s pop star who falls in love with the lyricist (Drew Barrymore) helping him with a comeback. His hilarious 80s sensation “Pop Goes My Heart” made a strong play for Best Original Song. Surely they could have let one of three Dreamgirls numbers go to see Grant hip thrusting in 80s garb up on stage. One can dream.
This week’s Florence Foster Jenkins offers Grant the opportunity to act opposite Oscar magnet Meryl Streep. In fact, she may be his ticket to a Supporting Actor nomination. He has the good will after a long career. Spouse characters also have been known to ride the coattails of their more showy counterparts. If Meryl can make it to the Dolby this year, she might drag Grant with her.
Top 5 Hugh Grant Performances
“About a Boy” – Will Freeman
“Bridget Jones Diary” – Daniel Cleaver
“Four Weddings and a Funeral” – Charles
“Music and Lyrics” – Alex Fletcher
“Sense and Sensibility” – Edwards Ferrars