Critic’s Notebook: Jimmy Kimmel’s Oscars Monologue Chides Donald Trump, Celebrates Meryl Streep

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A year ago, Chris Rock had the awkward duty of having to dedicate almost his entire Academy Awards opening monologue to the ongoing #OscarsSoWhite controversy. He might have wanted to joke about various stars in the audience and the nominated movies and all of that, but Rock gamely went out and addressed the elephant in the room over and over and over again for 10 minutes.

 

Host Jimmy Kimmel had a somewhat easier task kicking off Sunday’s 89th Academy Awards.

 

Kimmel had the advantage of a warned up audience. I don’t understand why Justin Timberlake got to open the show. Yes, I get that he’s nominated for his Trolls song and he’s Justin Timberlake, but other people were also nominated for that award and since when do we open the Oscars telecast with a nominated song performance anyway? It wasn’t even a parody song, like Jimmy Fallon did at the Golden Globes and everybody has done at the Oscars. This was Justin Timberlake doing a fun medley. Basically, this treated the Oscars like the Grammys, but if the main goal was to get the crowd in a good mood and get some stars dancing in the aisles, it achieved that goal entirely. And if the goal was to absolutely, positively guarantee that this show is going to run long and that we’ll be cutting off award speeches from major recipients… Well, there’s at least an off-chance that that was part of the goal, too.

 

Timberlake gamely played the role of opening act, introducing Kimmel and then making faces as he Kimmel made not-hugely-funny ‘NSYNC jokes.

 

Then Kimmel went out and gave a solid, above-average Oscars monologue.

 

The question, of course, was how much joking Kimmel would do about our president, presumably unable to view the Oscars live in order to attend a dinner with a convoy of governors.

 

The answer, of course, was “ample.”

 

“I want to say thank you to President Trump. Remember last year when it seemed like the Oscars were racist?” Kimmel asked.

 

He acknowledged, “The country is divided right now,” but suggested he wasn’t the man to bring us all together.

 

“I can’t do that,” he says. There’s only one Braveheart in this room and he’s not gonna unite us either.”

 

Cut to Mel Gibson amidst a mixture of silence and uneasy laughter.

 

“Mel, you look great. I think the Scientology is working,” Kimmel jokes.

 

A little discomfort is perfectly fine at a show like this, especially when it’s at Mel Gibson’s expense, and Kimmel quickly transitioned to saying that the best way to bring the country together would be if every person were to have a “positive, considerate conversation” with another person, not as Democrat or Republican, but just as people, that would go a long way toward healing.

 

Kimmel wasn’t really ready to reconcile with our commander in chief. He did an extended build-up before urging a standing ovation for Meryl Streep, who “has phoned it in for more than 50 films in her lackluster career,” indirectly referencing Trump’s hostile tweet that followed Streep’s politically charged Golden Globes speech. Naturally, the crowd was happy to stand for Meryl, which Kimmel followed with the barb, “Nice dress, by the way. Is that an Ivanka?”

 

Somehow I suspect that it’s the latter jab that’s most likely to be part of President Trump’s 5 a.m. all-caps bowel-movement tweeting, as Kimmel put it.

 

This was not a wholly monomaniacal Trump-driven monologue from Kimmel. He may not have been eager to broker peace with President Trump, but he kinda joked about reconciling with Matt Damon.

 

I’m kinda tired of Kimmel bringing this schtick into awards shows. On his show, it’s on-brand. At awards shows, it’s… Oh, whatever. If you laughed, you laughed!

 

Similarly, if you laughed at Kimmel joking that Andrew Garfield’s Hacksaw Ridge weight loss had only been attempted by every actress for every movie ever, then I guess you don’t remember that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler made the EXACT SAME JOKE about Matthew McConaughey at the Golden Globes a few years back. Kimmel made it well and Garfield was an amused good sport.

 

Octavia Spencer loved the joke that in movies this year, “Black people saved NASA and white people saved jazz.”

 

And Damien Chazelle chuckled about being young.

 

It was a fine, solid monologue. Not a great monologue. Not a bomb. Right down the middle. And while Kimmel joked about “the way you people go through hosts,” I’m betting that if the rest of the show is this smooth, he’ll be asked back again.

 

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