Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

(Adam McKay, USA, 2004)


Heretical thought: can a trailer ever be better than the movie it advertises? In the case of Anchorman, this may be true. The very particular and peculiar kind of humour it offers is hard to sustain for an entire feature film, but works perfectly within the lightning-fast collage of a snappy trailer. (In subsequent years, it has also turned out to be ideal comedy viewing for the cable viewer who can zap in and out of it.)

Director and co-writer Adam McKay – a veteran of Saturday Night Live and Michael Moore’s The Awful Truth, making his feature debut – alights on a terrific topic that could just have easily formed the basis for a conventional romantic comedy or an outright drama.

It is the 1970s, and the on-screen face of television news presentation is wholly and overwhelmingly male. On air, Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) is slick, authoritative and charismatic. Off air, he is pretty much an idiot, as are his professional buddies, sportscaster Champ (David Koechner), weatherman Brick (Steve Carell) and field reporter Brian (Paul Rudd).

Naturally, it is a Women’s Libber, the ambitious Veronica (Christina Applegate), who arrives to destabilise this status quo. Veronica’s first mistake, however, is in giving in to her lust for Ron – a development he promptly and proudly announces in his TV sign-off.

There are two reasons to see Anchorman. The first is its relentlessly hip parody of ’70s American TV conventions; news segments, mock advertisements, and other extensions of Ron’s media celebrity take up more time than the nominal storyline. The second reason is Ferrell, one of the greatest and most inventive comedians of our time.

But Ferrell’s general career problem is also the specific problem faced by this film. In Anchorman, absolutely nothing is taken seriously. Moments of intrigue or triumph, misery or ecstasy, are presented as flip gags, a riotous send-up of movie clichés. Ferrell himself always acts in the second degree, between quotation marks.

I applaud the bold anti-humanism of all this, but must also admit that it is a little hard to stay engaged for ninety-four minutes with characters and events which function only as grating, Brechtian alienation effects. Still, few scenes in the grand Saturday Night Live tradition remain as funny as Ferrell’s ‘jazz flute’ Jethro Tull-style solo here.

MORE Ferrell: Superstar

© Adrian Martin October 2004

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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