NEW YORK -- True, Jimmy Kimmel can't bring together a divided country. But for a few hours Sunday as host of the Oscars, he helped all within earshot laugh more than a little at the nation's current discord.
What's more, he navigated the rocky final moments that threatened to upend, overshadow and even cast doubt on the whole shebang. In an epic screw-up, the best picture winner, as announced by Faye Dunaway, had to be corrected to "Moonlight" from "La La Land" while the latter film's producers were well into their acceptance speeches.
"I knew I would screw this show up," Kimmel joked to viewers, heroically unfazed by the chaos raging around him onstage. "I promise I'll never come back."
Memo to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences: Quick, sign this guy up for life. He can handle anything.
Hours earlier, Kimmel had the audience at hello. During his uproarious opening monologue, he cheerfully reminded everyone that not just the nation but the whole world was united in viewing the show: "This broadcast is being watched in 225 countries that now hate us," he cracked.
He voiced his thanks to U.S. President Donald Trump for taking heat off the Oscars: "Remember LAST year," Kimmel recalled, "when it seemed the OSCARS were racist? That's gone - thanks to him!"
And he reminded the audience in the Dolby Theatre that soon, some of them would be collecting filmdom's most coveted prize - plus, they would get the chance to "give a speech that the president will tweet about in all caps during his 5 a.m. bowel movement."
The broadcast contained a steady thrum of response to Trump's infant presidency. "Opposing without hatred," ''tolerance being more powerful than fear of the other," ''a respect for diversity" were typical of sentiments voiced by presenters and recipients.
Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, whose movie "The Salesman" won best foreign film, boycotted the ceremony, citing Trump's travel ban on seven predominantly Muslim countries, including his own: "Dividing the world into the 'us' and 'our enemies' categories creates fear," Farhadi declared in a statement read for him from the stage.
It's not unusual for an Oscars telecast to be at odds with itself: foolishness vies with dignity; glitzy excess wrangles with a sober-minded tribute to film artistry. Such is the nature of showbiz self-congratulation.
But seldom before has the Oscarcast been so conflicted as this year, when a new White House occupant made the big show an inviting platform for a political primal scream as much as a time-honored gala.
Fortunately, Kimmel was up to the challenge of keeping things comfortable while pertinent. Turns out his splendid job as Emmys host last fall was just a warmup for Sunday night, when he not only proved adept at keeping things funny and smart, but also demonstrated nothing throws him.
The show began with a live, rousing performance by Justin Timberlake in full production number of his Oscar-nominated song "Can't Stop the Feeling."
With that, Kimmel took over and instantly had everyone roaring with laughter.
Along with the usual jibes at Hollywood's vanities, he never let Trump stray too far from his attention. While hailing many of the celebrated stars in the room, Kimmel recognized one of moviedom's actors "who SEEM great but really aren't." Based on Trump's Twitter eruption after the Golden Globes, Kimmel impishly saluted Meryl Streep, "who has stood the test of time for her many uninspiring and overrated performances."
And in the spirit of unification, he even took the giant step of burying the hatchet with Matt Damon, with whom he has shared a yearslong comic feud: "When I first met Matt," said Kimmel during his backhanded act of reconciliation, "I was the fat one." From his seat in the hall, Damon pretended to fume.
Among the highlights of the night: Kimmel punked a busload of tourists who were led into the auditorium with no idea they would be invading an Oscarcast in progress, creating an instant social media star out of one man who quickly became known by his hashtag, #GaryFromChicago. Kimmel interviewed the smartphone-toting tour-goers and introduced them to stars. Hands were shaken and photos were snapped. It was a charming display of goggle-eyed movie-lovers united with the stars they idolize.
Also worth noting on a show that turned out to be unexpectedly fun without leaving behind a larger mission: the montage of moviegoers from all over the world citing, in their native tongues, favorite films. American films. It was a welcome reminder that Hollywood can surmount its share of walls. No matter what the best picture might turn out to be.