Anchorman (United States, 2004)
There was a time, long before cable and VCRs, when live local news was one of the biggest commodities television stations had to sell. During this era, news anchors were judged far less by their journalistic skills than by their ability to convey trustworthiness. After all, we invited these men into our homes every evening, and believed every word they spoke. What we perhaps did not recognize was that these men were often petty and egotistical, and their sole redeeming qualities were that they could look good on camera and read flawlessly from a teleprompter. Such a man was Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell), the immensely popular anchor of San Diego's Channel 4 evening news.
Anchorman is a very funny motion picture, but it also has a good sense of the time (the 1970s) and how the medium of TV news was changing. Like Network and Broadcast News, the film turns a satirical eye towards the behind-the-scenes goings-on at a station. Anchorman is more over-the-top and intentionally silly than either of the aforementioned movies, but it still makes the point. In addition, it explores how difficult a period it was for serious women journalists with on-air aspirations. Here, the Jessica Savitch-type is Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), who encounters a wall of male chauvinism on her way to becoming KVWN's first female anchorperson. And the strongest opposition comes from Ron Burgundy, who, along with his cohorts, insists that news is a man's world. All of this is presented in the most farcical manner imaginable, but it's possible to get a sense of what it was like for women in this industry during the '70s. (Four notable local, long-time anchors were used as consultants for the film, so the sense of verisimilitude underlying the satire is well-founded.)
As the movie opens, we are informed: "The following is based on actual events. Only the names, locations, and events have been changed." Anchorman then introduces Ron and the other members of the KVWM news team: sports reporter Champ Kind (David Koechner), weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carell), and on-the-spot reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd). They represent the #1 news team in San Diego, but the arrival of Veronica Corningstone is about to stir the pot. At first, station manager Ed Harken (Fred Willard) gives her "puff pieces," but, when Ron is late for a broadcast one evening, she fills in, and is such a hit that she and Ron are soon co-anchors. To add fuel to the fire, they become romantically involved, then split when Ron views her career ambitions as a betrayal.
With his two previous movies, Old School and Elf, Will Ferrell has shown a maturation of his comedy from Saturday Night Live fare to something more suited to the big screen. (That is to say, it has become funny.) Although still heavily reliant upon sophomoric gags and innuendo, there is an underlying level of sophistication to what Ferrell does. Granted, no one would call this "intellectual comedy," but it's not as dumb as it first appears to be. With Anchorman, Ferrell has found a happy medium between the family friendliness of Elf and the R-rated outrageousness of Old School.
Frrell carries the movie on his broad shoulders, nailing the character perfectly. He becomes Ron: the shallow-but-photogenic anchorman whose back-stage pettiness contradicts his on-screen friendliness. And, even though Ron is a chauvinist, Ferrell brings out his likeability. Christina Applegate is an effective foil. Her part as the only woman in an otherwise all-male news team is mirrored by her being the only significant female in the cast. There's just enough chemistry between her and Ferrell to allow the love story to work. Effective support is provided by Paul Rudd as the station Lothario, David Koechner as a guy who doesn't know much other than sports, and Steve Carell as a twit with an IQ of 40.
The comedic centerpiece of Anchorman is a no-holds-barred rumble between San Diego's various anchor teams. With cameos by Vince Vaughn, Tim Robbins, Ben Stiller, and Luke Wilson, this is as funny and memorable a scene as any in Anchorman. It requires something of a macabre sense of humor to fully appreciate this tussle, since there's one death and a dismemberment. Of course, it's all played for laughs.
Anchorman's satirical bent makes the comedy seem richer. One of the areas where the film has fun is in choosing character names. We have great, theatrical-sounding monikers like Ron Burgundy, Veronica Corningstone, Brick Tamland, Champ Kind, and Wes Mantooth. I wonder how long it took Ferrell and co-writer/director Adam McKay (a behind-the-scenes SNL alum making his feature debut) to come up with those? It's hard to say whether Anchorman is the funniest movie of the year - it has enough offbeat and gut-busting moments to make it worth consideration in that category. And Anchorman would certainly make a great double-feature with Dodgeball, another of 2004's most enjoyable comedies.
Anchorman (United States, 2004)
Cast: Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, David Koechner, Fred Willard, Chris Parnell, Vince Vaughn
Screenplay: Will Ferrell & Adam McKay
Cinematography: Thomas E. Ackerman
Music: Alex Wurman
U.S. Distributor: Dreamworks