Nightlife

Anchorman - The Legend of Ron Burgundy

by David Foucher
EDGE Publisher
Friday Jul 9, 2004
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Hand it to Will Ferrell: he has his fingers literally locked to the pulse of his audience. The half-improvisational comedic mannerisms of "Old School" and the whipped charisma of "Elf" have been amplified and calmly exploited in "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy." Even better: Ferrell has evidently elected to fiercely commit to his signature brand of sophomoric comedy, no longer restraining himself to minor roles or the safety of easy targets. He is unapologetically devilish in his new movie, abject and great at once. If his prior films were the revving of his career’s engine, "Anchorman" takes him from zero to sixty.

Ferrell stars as Ron Burgundy, the misogynistic lead anchor of a television news station in San Diego in the 1970s. Together with his news team-- field reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) and sportscaster Champ Kind (David Koechner) -- Ron is the toast of the town. Until, that is, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) arrives in town to satisfy the network’s diversity goals, and challenges the male-centric newsroom with something they lack: Real talent. A hailstorm of comedic warfare ensues as the two anchorpeople try to outwit each other in a bid for the top spot.

Ferrell may have found, in Applegate, a worthy compatriot at last. "Old School"’s Luke Wilson was excessively bland, and Elf’s Zooey Deschanel was cute but not given the liberal freedom afforded Applegate in the character of Corningstone. It must be challenging to act opposite the ineffable wit that is Ferrell; but that didn’t stop Applegate from turning in a performance which is both proportionate and uniquely her own.

The film is not all funny, which is precisely what you should expect from the new age of Saturday Night Live camp idiosyncrasies. But when the gags fall low, they don’t sink -- and the highs are stratospheric. When the news team’s adversaries -- anchors from rival commercial, public and even Spanish stations -- inadvertently find themselves in a street gang face-off ripped from the pages of "West Side Story," the hysterics (and the cameos) mark Ferrell’s most hysterical work yet.

But what makes the film really work is the underlying truism that newsrooms in the 1970s were in fact peppered by an Old Boy Network who actually delighted in guzzling their scotch and patting women on the behind as they went about the business of delivering the news. In today’s hyper-conscious, litigious world these practices would be described in the most derogatory of terms; and in Ferrell’s parody lies the nail-biting knowledge that these sensibilities lie a scant thirty years behind us.

Kudos must be shared with co-writer Adam McKay, although his direction of the film is little more than perfunctory. And the always-enjoyable presence of Fred Willard as the beleaguered news director who oversees the sexist brawl is a treat. "Anchorman" may not be the funniest film of the year, but then I’m not entirely certain that Ferrell isn’t slowly exploring a sub-genre that has alternate intents. And every step in its progression makes Ferrell uniquely fascinating to watch.

David Foucher is the CEO of the EDGE Media Network and Pride Labs LLC, a member of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalist Association, and is accredited with the Online Society of Film Critics. David lives with his husband and daughter in Dedham MA.

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