When I was a kid, I remember showing my dad a commentary piece about maturity in Newsweek. The author stated that while every generation of youth looked for ways to avoid adulthood, my generation (the baby boomers) was the first one with significant numbers that were actually achieving the goal. "Theirs is the first group of adults," he opined, "that, even though they are full-grown physically and in positions of authority, remain willing to skip lunch in order to buy a poster."
We laughed, but then Dad studied into the distance for a bit and said, "The sad thing is that it's likely to come around and bite all of you on the asses. Hopefully, there will be enough disciplined types left to do the operations and keep the planes in the air. If not, you kids are going to be in big trouble." Leaning back in his chair, he chuckled, "Of course, I'll be dead by then and it won't be my problem."
Luckily, we have had enough rule-oriented people to control the plane routing and take care of medical needs. My dad's dire forecast didn't quite come true, but the fallout from those days is hard to ignore. You can look at it from the top - the only presidents from our generation to date are Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Or check the bottom - our most popular TV shows are formulaic police procedural dramas, spin-offs from those police procedural dramas and a show where people eat bugs for money. Or we can simply look at ourselves - we read less than we used to and most of us are fat.
Which brings me, at long last, to Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, a big, sloppy Will Ferrell comedy co-written by Ferrell and former Saturday Night Live head-writer and first-time director Adam McKay. You know, "writing" is a bit generous a word for what they do - let's just say it was co-sketched by the men.
The premise is solid. Set in 1970s San Diego, the film stars Ferrell as Ron Burgundy, the top-rated anchorman in the San Diego television market. Make that newsreader - Burgundy is a slave to his teleprompter, reading every word without a clue to the meaning of the text rolling out of his mouth. Sharing the stardom with Ron is good-ol'-boy sportscaster Champ Kind (David Koechner); human-interest style guy Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd, Phoebe's husband in the last days of Friends); and totally lost weather guy Brick Talmand (Steve Carell, hilarious alum of The Daily Show).
All is well for the newsboys until producer Ed Harken (Fred Willard) decides, in the name of "diversity," to add newswoman Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) to the team. The men are outraged and throw great heaving tantrums. Then they try to bed their new team member, because, well, because she's a beautiful woman and that's what you do.
And then Ron Burgundy's worst nightmare comes true.
The cast gives it their all. Don't expect anything subtle from the male supporting players, of course. Had Koechner, Rudd and Carell played their parts any broader, they wouldn't have fit on the screen. Of the three, Carell is the funniest as a diminished fellow who slips into a full state of hysteria at the drop of a hat.
As should come as no surprise, there are celebrity cameos galore (in the outtakes over the closing credits, there is even a celebrity cameo outtake). Some work, others are less effective, I won't give away any of the names.
Christina Applegate is quite impressive here as Burgundy's arch nemesis/potential love interest. Crisp and quick, you can tell that Applegate carefully studied the men and then concocted the perfect comedic counterpoint. As for Will Ferrell, he is perhaps a little less funnier here than he was in Old School, but no where nearly as good as he was in Elf.
Why? Here's where you find out why I started off this essay with all that business about the boomer generation saying no thanks to adulthood. Will Ferrell is a funny man with very little discipline. When given a role, he will hurl himself into it absolutely - part of his appeal is that lack of reservation. Elf was his funniest film because director Jon Favreau kept a tight grip on the production. He recognized that a character breaking the rules is funniest when there are plenty of rules to break and plenty of people to be outraged at the rule-breaking behavior.
Old School was less funny because it was less controlled. Ferrell's best scene in it? Running naked down the streets while his disapproving wife and her girlfriends drove behind him, shaking their heads at his cluelessness. Of the three films Ferrell made since he exited SNL, Anchorman is the least structured, in the screenplay, behind the cameras and with the on screen work of Ferrell and the other three men.
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy is amusing where it should have been hilarious. If only they had listened to my dad.