The new movie Anchorman is I think for the 1970s what the Austin Powers movies are for the 1960s. If you lived through the 1970s (and for most of the 1970s I was a teenager) it is difficult to look back on that decade and not laugh self-consciously. Now there were some really sobering times in the 1970s: Watergate, the Arab Oil Embargo, the end of the Vietnam debacle, high inflation and dicey employment come readily to my mind. But in retrospect it was a decade that could not have ended too soon. Did we really look and behave that dopey? I remain fashion impaired in my forties. But in the 1970s I looked like a real dork. I was usually decked out in polyester checkered pants and shirts. I looked more like Herb Tarlek from WKRP than Andy Travis. Amazingly at the time this look was considered stylish. In hindsight I am convinced our tastes in pretty much everything during this decade reached the nadir for the century. Yech!
Anchorman doesn’t revel so much in the dubious fashion of the time. Rather it immerses the viewer into the pomposity and phony masculinity of the decade. It hurt a bit to watch the movie. In the character of Channel 4 anchorman Ron Burgundy I can recall more than a bit of myself during that decade. Things were clearly different for me though. I didn’t have the handlebar mustaches and I certainly wasn’t popular with the chicks. At the time the role of men was changing. During the early 70s we men didn’t know whom we were and how we were supposed to act. So we sort of made it up as we went along, and it was an inconsistent mess. This confusion is the root of much of the humor of the movie. Fortunately it can sustain plenty of laughs.
Will Farrell plays the anchorman of this San Diego TV news team, circa 1972 or so. He embodies the form of masculinity that was hot at the time but now seems ludicrous. Will is surrounded by three other guys that deliver the news, sports and weather. It’s a super shallow all guy buddy club that is equally shallow in front of the cameras at Channel 4 and after the cameras are off. These guys hang together, attend lots of parties full of plastic people and tell everyone of their latest sexual exploits. They are always crassly preying on other women in a way that reflects the amazing masculine cluelessness of the time. There are no female news personalities in front of the camera until Veronica Corningstone arrives. The all guy news team is totally clueless about how to treat a woman as a peer. While women’s liberation was picking up steam in 1972 it had not changed many minds or attitudes. This all boys club is not anxious to let a woman in. They want to keep reveling in their superficial masculinity.
This is a comedy that veers from form to form. At times it seems like a romantic comedy, at other times a farce, at other times a parody. The humor sometimes falls dead but most of the time it succeeds. I bet you will find yourself guiltily laughing along. It is not a completely over the top comedy like Airplane! But it often drifts into the theater of the comic absurd.
Clearly this was not a movie that required lavish budgets or top talent. Will Farrell is funny but he’s no comic superstar like Eddie Murphy. It feels like it might work better as a made for TV movie than as a theatrical release. It is wholly predictable and silly. But I did enjoy both Will Farrell as Ron and Christina Applegate as Veronica. Both carry their comic characters quite well.
Our matinee was in a theater perhaps ten percent full so I doubt this movie will be giving Spider-Man 2 or Fahrenheit 9/11 a run for the money. When the lights came up about half the patrons appeared to find the humor a bit too strained. So a warning: the often sophomoric level of humor in the movie is not for everyone. But if you thought that movies like Animal House were funny you will probably very much enjoy Anchorman. My daughter Rosie and I certainly enjoyed it. We nearly laughed ourselves silly at several points. I won’t be rushing to see it in the theater again, but I may purchase the DVD just for a few of those incredibly inane but hilarious scenes. One such scene was the parody of the West Side Story fight sequence. Only this time instead of the Jets vs. the Sharks, we have Channel 4 vs. Channel 9 anchor teams. (And in short order all the other new teams in town, including the Public TV team, show up for the mayhem.) I enjoyed the subtle touches like the Channel 9 anchor having curly hair just like Russ Tamblyn in West Side Story.
If your comic tastes are close to mine you will enjoy the movie well enough and likely won’t particularly mind paying the admission price for a film obviously made on the cheap. It was a mindless but often hilarious way to pass ninety minutes. I give it a solid 3.0 on my 4.0 scale.
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