Synopsis: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues opened this week bringing confident but thick news anchor Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) back to the big screen after a nine year absence. The first film made catchphrases like, “I love scotch. Scotchy, scotch, scotch,” and the names Brick Tamland (Steve Carell), Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) and Champion “Champ” Kind (David Koechner) household words. In celebration of the return of the team from San Diego’s KVWN Channel 4 the Reel Guys have a look back at the career of funnyman Will Ferrell.
Richard: Mark, I think Will Ferrell is one of the bravest comedic actors working today; someone willing to do anything for a laugh. Trouble is, I often don’t laugh. Anchorman is laugh-out-loud funny. Ditto Elf and Old School, but sometimes I feel he has to rein the manic energy in, do half as much and maybe be twice as funny. Having said that, the Shark Week jokes in Step Brothers really make me giggle.
Mark: Richard, I share your ambivalence toward Ferrell. He’s not my go-to guy for funny. Still, he’s done some great work. My favourite Will Ferrell movies are two indie films he’s starred in: Stranger Than Fiction and Everything Must Go. They’re the equivalent of Jim Carrey’s work in The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Maybe not huge crowd pleasers, but they show the true breadth of his talent.
RC: I agree. I think Stranger Than Fiction is worth a rental. It’s touching and funny, which for me is Ferrell’s sweet spot. A Night at the Roxbury is a silly comedy but Ferrell’s wide-eyed performance is the kind of thing I like from him. Outrageous, yes, but underneath the silly is a real guy. Sometimes I can’t see the real guy underneath his characters and those are his movies that don’t work for me. Except Zoolander. As fashion guru Mugatu he’s so strange he dares you not to laugh at him.
MB: Yes, he’s sometimes better in a supporting role in which his over-the-top zaniness doesn’t sink the whole picture. Mugatu for sure, but also the mattress salesman in The Internship or Franz in The Producers. But generally, I find his man-child jock character wearying. Which is why, I think, Anchorman is such a successful movie. It’s a Will Ferrell movie for people who don’t care for Will Ferrell movies. Did you enjoy the sequel, Richard?
RC: I did. I think there is a lot of life left in Ron Burgundy. It’s funny in an outrageous way. It’s a bit too long, (and don’t bother sitting through to the post credit scene unless you find the sight of Steve Carell eating cookies hilarious) but the buffoonery level is high in a season where serious drama seems to be the ticket.
In the last couple of weeks I have seen Ferrell, in character, sit in on some local newscasts and he fit right in. As long as there is media, egomaniac announcers and local news, there will be a place for Ron Burgundy.
MB: Yes, but let’s not forget he’s supported by a stellar cast of comic actors: Paul Rudd, Jim Carrey, Steve Carell, Vince Vaughn, Kristen Wiig. Even if Ferrell isn’t your cup of tea, it’s hard to believe this movie won’t work.
Sometimes all it takes is one scene to rescue a faltering movie. Stranger Than Fiction, the new film from Finding Neverland director Marc Forester is a great example of a film saved by one tender scene that sheds a light on an otherwise inscrutable character.
Will Ferrell plays Harold Crick, a by the numbers IRS auditor. Numbers rule his life, not only at work but in his personal life as well. He counts the number of brush strokes he uses to clean his teeth, the number of steps to the bus stop and can do extremely complicated equations in his head.
His drab Kafkaesque existence is upended when he becomes aware of a narrator’s voice in his head. The voice doesn’t speak to him directly, it simply documents his life, like a writer describing a scene. It’s bothersome, but benign until the day it announces that Crick’s death is imminent. Crick, with the help of a professor of literature (Dustin Hoffman) tries to decipher the source of the voice, coming up with a surreal conclusion—Crick is a fictional character in someone’s book who by some means manages to live in the real world. The realization that his life might not be his own and a budding romance with an anarchist baker (Maggie Gyllenhaal) fill Crick with the desire to make his life mean something.
It’s a strange, but sweet meta-story, one that echoes themes from The Truman Show, Adaptation and Pleasantville of a character in search of a story.
At the beginning of the movie Ferrell is a blank slate, a character so devoid of personality that he barely exists. The actor has a rough road ahead making this character compelling enough to maintain our interest. For me he doesn’t really succeed until midway through the movie when his romance with the baker starts to develop. [SPOILER ALERT] In one great scene he hesitantly plays a song on guitar for Gyllenhaal and immediately takes the character from zero to hero. With his high pitched, tentative voice mumbling through the opening verse of Whole Wide World, a song about long lost love, it is touching and a big step toward Crick taking power over his own life. It’s the scene where Ferrell takes control of the character and is one of the most romantic sequences in a movie since Paul Giamatti and Virginia Madsen talked about their love of wine in Sideways a couple of years back.
Stranger Than Fiction is an odd movie, with high points, the aforementioned serenade, Emma Thompson as Crick’s unwitting narrator that far outweigh its negatives. The metaphysical angle doesn’t quite work, but the winning performances and strong message of finding one’s self worth rise above any deficiencies.