Sunday, May 17, 2009

#12 Film of the Decade- Anchorman

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy- Adam McKay (2004)

Most comedies that have a long shelf-life--Caddyshack, Trading Places, Stripes--boast capsule reviews that look something like this: "While the premise of the film is thin, the rich structure and deceptively complex characters are what keep it from being one-note. It stands on its own feet not only as a great comedy, but a great film overall."

Anchorman is not one of those movies. Its plot is superfluous and silly. It really is a bunch of jokes strung together, but its lack of any sort of apology for that fact is what sets it apart. In writing it (and allowing what must have been considerable improvisation), McKay and Ferrell placed the value of the gag over anything else. I know many people might believe that calling it the number twelve movie of the decade is being too generous, but think back to how many memorable sequences there are, how many hilarious lines get quoted every day, and how many movies have taken the lessons Anchorman applied and run with them.

The first of those lessons is to place the joke above anything else. The second one, which was just as important, is collecting funny people and letting them be funny. The late '90s/early aughts model of the studio comedy was to get a funny--or even just likable--star and insert him into some mannered, screwball situation that provided enough witty claptrap to cut into a trailer. I saw a bunch of these in high school. Making sure all of the supporting players are funny doesn't sound like rocket science, but it wasn't until Old School became such a big hit that it became commonplace.* Acting be damned. If the lead actor feels comfortable working with and bouncing bits off his best friends, who are mostly comedians, then let him do it and have some trust in the people making the movie. Every single person in Anchorman's cast--even the bit parts--is funny. Chris Parnell has two or three lines in it. Seth Rogen doesn't have any, and you probably forgot he was Eager Cameraman.

"Little bit of ham and eggs..."

That being said, as impressive as the cast is overall, this is Will Ferrell's movie. His best characters are delusional men whose false confidence leads them to believe they're one step ahead of everyone else, when they're really a step behind. Mastering that persona is the reason he looks and sounds nothing like George Bush but can imitate him better than anyone else. In that regard Ron Burgundy is his masterpiece. Most of the comedy comes from, depending on the character, the undeserved reverence or repulsion with which anyone reacts to him, and he imbues the character with enough pompous swagger to pull that dynamic off.

What makes you laugh is subjective, so I understand if this is not your kind of movie. I can't deny that it's weird. But the absurdity of Anchorman contributes to its ballsy, anything-goes tone. It's that spirit that ends up being its legacy. All parties involved seem so giddy to be realizing this bizarre vision that it wears off on the audience. It's obvious that everyone is cracking up as soon as "cut" is called. It's that fun translated to us that keeps us ignoring the panda sub-plot, and it's the reason the whole of the movie towers above any petty summary of its parts.

*- By the way, Old School just missed the top fifty cut. I love it. There was one end-of-summer week when I watched it every day. I did, however, pass out during the birthday party sequence almost every time. So I don't know how to score that.


Will said...

Excellent pick. Can I get an Almost Famous pace? Pretty please?

Chris said...

Almost Famous is number one. I have to save it for the end of the year.

Will said...

Pshhhhh, it's not like you've been going in order so far.