Friday Film Focus: Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

The root of Will Ferrell’s humor lies in his ability to play insanely ridiculous characters. He holds such conviction that he comes across as wholly oblivious to his own idiocy. He is the go-to guy if you want to laugh yourself silly. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy is a ridiculously moronic yet frequently riotous ode to ‘70’s local news and workplace diversity. As played with sleazy glee by Ferrell, Ron Burgundy is the legendary top local anchor of the Channel 4 news team in San Diego. The catchphrase “You stay classy San Diego” embodies the shallow stupidity of his masculine persona.  That said, Anchorman slaps a goofy smile on your face. Although at times it feels like an extended Saturday Night Live sketch from the show’s invariably flabby last half hour, Ferrell and director Adam McKay generate enough inspired lunacy to sail past and provide a welcome splash of jaw-droppingly bizarre movie fun.

“This was an age,” the introductory voice-over declaims, “when only men were allowed to read the news.” As Anchorman opens, Ron Burgundy faces a crisis. Ed Harke, the station’s news director (played by the invaluable Fred Willard), wants to add “diversity” to the newsroom by hiring a woman to join the team as a reporter. Reporter Veronica Corningstone, played by Christina Applegate, invades the newsroom. No one feels threatened as long as Veronica sticks to her cooking segments and covering cat shows. Ron incarnates the casual chauvinism of the old days. He swills scotch before going on the air, and smokes cigars in his office whilst ogling female coworkers. His swinging, easygoing sexism is challenged by the arrival of Miss Corningstone. He — along with his team — are set on having her fired.  

If the film was simply focused on making Ron look ridiculous, it might grow tedious. But there is an underlying sweetness to him that the audience grows to understand. Despite all his weaknesses, Ron is a sort of nice guy. Corningstone, despite her desire to project a serious and professional image, kind of likes him — especially when he reveals an unexpected musical talent in a lounge one night. There is a rousing, table-stomping interlude of jazz flute playing, a semi-animated sex-fantasy sequence full of white horses and rainbows, and a chance to hear Ron intone the words ”whale’s vagina.” (In context, it’s hilarious.) 

Then… disaster strikes.

A motorcycle-riding sadist (cameo by Jack Black) drop kicks Ron’s dog Baxter off a bridge (Baxter barks in Spanish; the film provides subtitles). When the tragedy makes Ron late for work, it’s Veronica who must sit in at the anchor desk. Ratings skyrocket, and Ron’s testosterone runs a few quarts low. Harke decides to name her Ron’s co-anchor in hopes of keeping the show number one.

This is not right. This cannot be. It is against nature. Burgundy is appalled. Where can Ron turn to? To his news team, of course. Ferrell is lucky to be surrounded by some of the best improv actors in the business. The team includes an emotionally volatile sportscaster named Champ Kind (David Koechner), a dumb weather guy named Brick Tamland (Steve Carell), and a tightly wound investigative reporter named Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd).

And yes, sometimes when they get together they actually do sing “Afternoon Delight.” They are united in their distaste of adding a woman to the team. “I read somewhere that their periods attract bears,” one of them ominously warns. Odors play an important role in the movie. Hoping to attract Corningstone, Brian Fantana splashes on a high-octane cologne that smells “like the time the raccoon got in the copier.” The cameos from the likes of Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, Vince Vaughn, and Oscar winner Tim Robbins are similarly scattershot. But Anchorman has a puppy dog eagerness to please, and please it does.

Anchorman transports us back to a familiar, silly world of embarrassing facial hair and ugly polyester. Surprisingly, the film manages to score points regarding the rampant sexism in the ‘70’s television-news industry. However without question, the concentration here is on silliness and comedy. If you sense the presence of recycled jokes from Animal House onward, you’d be right. But you’d be wrong to discount the comic rapport Ferrell has with his cohorts. As time passes, Anchorman only seems to be growing in popularity — and is quickly approaching the status of cult classic (if it hasn’t achieved that already). The film is pure pleasure with just enough laughs to keep an audience rooting for it.

Image Source: Rolling Stone