At specific moments in recent history it safely could be said that, for example, Jim Carrey or Adam Sandler was the funniest man in American film. At this point in time, I think it’s safe to say that title is held by Will Ferrell and, if his performance in “Anchorman” is any indication, it is a title he’s likely to hang onto for a while.
On the heels of the megahit “Elf”, “Old School” and a distinguished seven year stint on “Saturday Night Live,” the comic actor has created (he cowrote the script) a character as wacked as Ace Ventura, Bobby “Waterboy” Boucher or anything the Farrelly brothers have managed to hallucinate.
Ron Burgundy is the clueless, polyester-clad god of local news in the
San Diego of the 70s. As the picture’s target audience will be too young to recall, this was an era in which TV bore little resemblance to the round-the-clock multichannel cable carnival we take for granted today. In contrast, it was a time when viewers had but three networks-along with their affiliates-to choose from. It was a different world. It was a man’s world. And it was a world in which a local television personality could attract as fevered a following as a rock star.
Burgundy is the undeserving beneficiary of these cathode dark ages, an airhead who rules the airwaves armed with nothing more than an appealing voice, meticulously blowdried hair and the ability to read whatever scrolls across a TelePrompter. His sense of entitlement is wildly out of proportion to his gifts and yet, with each new set of ratings, the universe seems to confirm his magnificence.
Hence his sense of cosmic betrayal when change is introduced into his world in the form of newswoman Veronica Corningstone. Christina Applegate costars as a plucky trailblazer who shares Burgundy’s dream: to one day anchor a national newscast. Her arrival is occasioned by feminism’s first flowering and the parent company’s decision to encourage “diversity” at the station. Burgundy is so behind the curve in terms of the concept that, when his boss (Fred Willard) asks whether he knows what the word means, Ferrell clears his throat and pompously offers that he’s pretty sure it’s the name of an old wooden ship from early American times.
The anchor and his chauvinist newsteam cohorts at first respond to
Applegate’s arrival with the courtliness of a Porky’s cast. She is groped, complimented on her caboose and, behind closed doors, made the butt of nonstop fratboy sex jokes. And, at first, Ferrell has the same reaction. He attempts to seduce her by inviting her into his office and then shirtlessly lifting dumbbells. When she walks in, he begins counting “1001…1002” with feigned breathlessness. It should be noted that Will Ferrell possesses not only one of film history’s funniest minds but one of its funniest bodies as well.
As it turns out though, there is another Ron Burgundy, a sensitive 70s man who sleeps with his tiny dog in matching pajamas, plays jazz flute to unwind and has real feelings for Corningstone. Their whirlwind courtship and its consummation are rendered in a delightfully surreal sequence involving-among other non sequitors-animated unicorns. Naturally, the newsman’s grip on reality is so tenuous that he thinks nothing of announcing to his audience that he and his coworker are head over heels in love and that she’s “a handful in the sack.”
He does think something of it, however, when Corningstone fills in for him when he’s late for a broadcast one evening (Jack Black drop kicks Ferrell’s dog off the side of a bridge. It’s a long story) and is a huge hit. The perceived back stab sets in motion seismic changes in Burgundy’s charmed life including a nasty break up (“Jazz flute is for fairies!”) and perhaps the most hilarious bottoming out ever put on celluloid. I had tears in my eyes by the time a bearded Ferrell hit skid row and, on a scorchingly hot day, takes desperate slugs from a carton and comments “Milk was probably a bad choice.”
There are gags and running jokes that don’t work quite as well. The
“West Side Story”-style confrontations between rival news teams are a good example. The movie gets off to a surprisingly slow start too. But, those minor quibbles aside, it’s hard not to like “Anchorman”. Ferrell’s at the top of his form and aided ably by comic talents Paul Rudd, David Koechner and “The Daily Show”‘s Steven Carell who play the station’s roving reporter, sports announcer and not quite right weatherman. How good is this line up? You could lose Ron
Burgundy and Carell’s Brick Tamland, by himself, would be worth the price of admission.
Word is Ferrell got the idea for the film one night while watching a documentary on the male dominated world of 70s television news. His fans should thank their lucky stars the comedian happened to catch it. This is one it would’ve been a shame to have missed.