Review: Anchorman (2004)

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anchormanWhile the 2004 film ‘Anchorman’ did well critically and financially, its success and impact can be best assessed by how much it’s become an organic part of pop culture in the years since its release.

To use one example, when a prank was pulled on a newsreader on an Australian morning show recently where she read an amusing line inserted on the autocue, her immediate reaction was that “It’s like Anchorman.” (clip: http://tinyurl.com/py73xza)

Such is ‘Anchorman’s impact on pop culture that even though I’d never properly watched it from beginning to end until a couple of weeks ago, it had almost felt like I’d already seen it.

It’s also gained critical acclaim in the years since its release. The UK newspaper The Times listed it as amongst the best 100 films of the 2000s and Empire film magazine listed it as 113 on its 500 greatest ever films list.

With all this public and critical praise, when I did finally see ‘Anchorman’ would I find it as good to match its lofty reputation as one of the best comedies of the 2000s? Unfortunately not.

‘Anchorman’ is set in the news section of a 1970s San Diego TV station. The on-air talent is full of arrogant, sexist male egos led by star newsreader Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) who is adored by seemingly the entire city. However, his smug existence is shaken up by the arrival of female news reporter Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) who shakes up both his personal and professional life.

The best thing about ‘Anchorman’ is Ferrell’s performance as Burgundy. He is consistently funny as his comic timing regularly hits the bullseye, making the most of lines like when he says to Veronica “For just one night let’s not be co-workers. Let’s be co-people.” As funny as Ferrell is, probably his most impressive achievement is making Burgundy – who is for all intents and purposes a cartoon, not a real character – quite likable and endearing. This helps maintain one’s interest in the film.

And there’s a lot of inspired and funny stuff on display. I especially enjoyed the scene where colleague Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) tells Burgundy how he’s going to seduce Veronica (“ They’ve done studies, you know. 60% of the time, it works every time.”)

There are a lot of amusing bits in the film… but that’s what they remain, just bits. And that’s the film’s greatest weakness. ‘Anchorman’ seems like a film made for YouTube where you can repeatedly watch funny and memorable 2 minute segments. But as a whole, even at its relatively short running time of 90 minutes watching ‘Anchorman’ is a bit of an ordeal to get through.

One reason for this is that the film is so random and non sequitur in its humour that it’s narrative doesn’t make sense. For example, a pivotal plot point is when Burgundy’s downward spiral begins at the end of a news broadcast (because it’s written onto the teleprompter by rival Veronica) to tell San Diego “to go f**k themselves”. And yet we see in an earlier broadcast Veronica referred to as “Tits McGee” and that is quickly forgotten. This inconsistency wouldn’t be a problem if the narrative was similarly wacky and unpredictable, but the film’s plot is surprisingly conventional.

Another weakness of the film is that when the film does have a good idea, it does tend to do it io death. For example a scene where Burgundy and the rest of his news team have a verbal confrontation with a rival news team (led by Vince Vaughan) is quite funny and succinct. But then later we see Burgundy’s team confront multiple news teams in a virtually gladiatorial, violent battle (with Tim Robbins & Ben Stiller making cameos) its overdone and overlong  and is largely tedious.

Also another weakness is that the topics it aims at for humour.  For example, the 1970s attitudes and especially fashions, seems a rather lazy and obvious target. By 2004 – let alone today – haven’t we seen enough films and TV get easy laughs from the culture of this era?

Also, the finale at a zoo is disappointingly ho-hum (again rival news teams appear to limited impact) as the film seem to just run out of inspiration.

Overall, while I’m not a great fan of ‘Anchorman’ I can understand its popularity. It does have some very funny scenes and characters and its easy why the film is fondly remembered by many. But I think that fondness would be somewhat reduced if people rewatched the film in its entirety instead of just remembering its best few segments.

Rating: C+

3 responses »

  1. I’ve watched and re-watched many times and it remains one of my all-time favorite comedies. The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad, Dumb & Dumber, Ghosbusters and a few others come first, but Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy is top 5 or at least 10 for sure. Will Ferrel’s finest hour. The funniest film with some sort of Apatow involvement. There probably hasn’t been a funnier film since it was released.

  2. I’m with Marco. I was completely underwhelmed when I saw it. Not as funny on the whole, but little bits certainly are.

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