Tag Archive: Will Ferrell

I’m not a big Will Ferrell fan. His time on SNL is probably the textbook definition of how to do sketch comedy well, but his movies are hit or miss at best. Stranger than Fiction is the only really good film Will Ferrell has made in about a decade. I enjoy some of his sophomoric Adam McKay-directed, Jud Apatow produced comedies (Semi-Pro, Blades of Glory), but mostly even with the ones I enjoy, I know that they are broadly written collections of cheap laughs. The worst of the films (Talledega Nights, Step Brothers) are borderline unwatchable except for having a rare funny or quotable moment here or there. He basically took his Frank the Tank character from Old School and found minor permutations and ways to change it to essentially play the same character for a decade strong now. It’s time to vary up your career with more challenging roles Mr. Ferrell. Still, even the cynical, angry curmudgeon in me must admit that the leading man role that got Will Ferrell his big break in Hollywood is the definition of a modern cult classic. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy remains eight years later one of the most quotable films of the aughts (along with The Hangover although not quite as consistently funny asThe Hangover). It’s not the most intellectual comedy ever written but it’s complete embrace of the absurd and surrealism means its still able to make me laugh my ass off all of these years later.

Set in the 1970s, Anchorman is the story of a fictional TV news program in San Diego just when feminism in the workplace was on the rise. Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) is the chauvinistic, womanizing, moron that is lead anchor for the Channel 4 news program which is the number one show in the San Diego area. Along with his co-reporters including the mentally disabled weatherman Brick (Steve Carrell), the possibly homosexual sports broadcaster Champ (David Koechner), and the rakish field reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), Ron is the cock of the walk in San Diego, worshiped by his legion of viewers and the women he parties with. But when ambitious and sexy hard-nosed reporter Veronica (Christina Applegate) shows up in the news room, things get shaken up very quickly. Despite Veronica’s better judgement, a romantic relationship blooms between Veronica and Ron but his sexism and her quick rise in the offices threatens to destroy their relationship as well as Ron’s entire career.

This is easily Will Ferrel’s most iconic role. It was the part that shot him to stardom and made everyone realize he could be a leading man rather than just a supporting sidekick or foil (though honestly, on film, I think that’s where he should go back to being because his solo work is less than impressive). If you were to ask the average Joe to name a Will Ferrell role off the top of their head, you have to think that Ron Burgundy or Frank the Tank would be the first answer given. And honestly, while there are definitely traces in this role of virtually every other Will Ferrell part from the last 8 years, he still manages to be very funny in this film. While his hyperactive, full-blown crazy side manages to elicit more laughs than it has in the intervening years, its his ability to dial the intensity down in this film and deliver the occasional deadpan joke that makes Ron Burgundy his most memorable celluloid creation. It doesn’t hurt that nearly everything that Ron Burgundy says is completely quotable but this is one of the rare Will Ferrell roles where he finds a balance between the two extreme sides of his acting persona. Christina Applegate isn’t especially funny in her role but as the “straight man” of the cast, she wasn’t meant to be. This film also turned out to be a break-out role (or one of several break out roles) for both Paul Rudd and Steve Carrell. Steve Carrell brings nearly as many classic Anchorman moments to the table as Will Ferrell does.

Trying to put my finger on the pulse of why this film is so endlessly quotable and enjoyable but Ferrell’s other films (which are structurally and stylistically similar) aren’t is difficult. Obviously, the film’s quotability plays a heavy part. The only reason I wound up watching this movie was because my sister hadn’t seen it, and throughout the entire film I was supplying the end to every punchline or non-sequitur (of which there are a lot). Anchorman is without question one of those films that grows on you with every viewing. I probably enjoyed it the first time I saw it but didn’t love it. Now, watching Anchorman is an exercise in getting to all of the great gags and set pieces. Speaking of set pieces, more than any of the other Adam McKay films, Anchorman has a serious bent to the surreal and absurd. Whether it’s the anchorman gang fight (where Brick stabs a man in the heart with a trident and Luke Wilson loses an arm), the jazz flute scene, or the part where Ron ends up in a zoo pit with bears, Anchorman tries to be as intentionally outrageous as possible. That’s part of the film’s charm. It crosses the line so many times (punting a dog off of a bridge for example) that you know not to try and take the movie seriously whatsoever. But it earns this comedic goodwill unlike the rest of Adam McKay’s ouevre (if you use the word ouevre in reference to Adam McKay, you probably aren’t his target audience).

The obvious payoff here is that in the face of all of the film’s truly hilarious moments, the moments where the jokes fall flat seem even more trite, boring, and lazy particularly in the face of the collected output of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay for the last ten years. Simply because this film laid the blocks in place for the rest of his movies, it robs the film of some of the freshness it had when first released. Still, even with those reservations, I haven’t stopped enjoying Anchorman after all of this time (it’s been several years since I’ve actually sat down and watched it), and it’s one of those films with lines that have entered my working, every day vocabulary. It’s not a perfect film, and it’s not Will Ferrell’s best movie. That’s certainly Stranger than Fiction. But as far as comedies that you can enjoy without having to put your thinking cap on, Anchorman might be the cat’s pajamas.

Final Score: B+


Old School

For my 14th birthday, my dad took my cousin and I to see Old School in theaters. I loved Will Ferrell on Saturday Night Live, and I had just recently discovered National Lampoon’s Animal House and loved it as well. When I saw it that first time in theatres, I absolutely loved the movie. It had been a couple of years since the last time I watched the movie and I didn’t have anything waiting from Netflix at home right now, so I figured I’d pop the film and see how well it’s stood the test of time. And while it’s still enjoyable, watching Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughan play practically the same exact character for the last 8 years has robbed the film of much of its original freshness and pleasure.

For those rare few of you who have managed to not see this one yet, Old School is about three friends, Mitch (Luke Wilson), a lawyer fresh off a hilariously failed relationship, Frank (Will Ferrell), a mild-mannered newly-wed til he drinks when he becomes party machine Frank the Tank, and Bernard (Vince Vaughan), a fast-talking speaker salesman in the midst of a mid-life crisis. Due to Mitch’s house being zoned for the new school by scummy Dean Pritchard (Jeremy Pivens), the trio decides to form an unconventional fraternity to keep Mitch’s house. Zany antics ensue.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some moments in this film that are hilarious. Frank streaking after his first taste of alcohol in years is classic Will Ferrell. There are actually a ton of funny moments in the film involving Will Ferrell, like him debating James Carville, doing a floor show dance for a gymnastics competition, tranquilizing himself on accident. Unfortunately, Will has spent the last 8 years playing variations of Frank the Tank. If this weren’t the original role, this film would be much more boring. Same with Vince Vaughan. Except, this time, this isn’t the original role. That goes to Swingers. He’s been playing the fast-talking, scheming, obnoxious man-child since freaking Swingers. The film does have a lot of people in small roles before they got much more famous. This is a pre-Ari Gold Jeremy Piven. This is a pre-Mrs. Ari Gold Perrey Reeves. Big Bang Theory‘s Wolowitz is in this. Rob Cordrey is in the film. Hell, it has John Locke in it pre-Lost. And the always stunning Elisha Cuthbert, although this came out the same year as 24 I believe.

This movie is by no means a classic. But it’s fun and I always enjoy it whenever I pop it in. It’s 8 years old at this point and I still quote it fairly regularly and I still wear my Frank the Tank shirt on occasions. And actually, unlike most of his roles for the next 8 years, Will Ferrell does manage to vacillate between full on crazy and quieter, drier humor at a fairly regular pace rather than just playing complete full on insane mode the whole film. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, you should give it a watch. It’s not one of my favorites but it’s managed to survive many repeat viewings over its lifespan.

Final Score: B

My favorite genre of film is the character study. It wins that competition hands down. However, the type of film that comes in a close second is mind-binding cerebral films that examine existence and consciousness in all sorts of new and original ways. These are films like Being John Malkovich or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I love the sort of meta commentary about the narrative structures and escapism of fictional entertainment interspersed within the tales of people who are, in their own universes, real. Thus, it should come as no surprise that I absolutely adore 2006’s genre-bending Stranger than Fiction.

The plot of film is one-parts The Matrix, one-part Adaptation, and one-part American Beauty. That’s a good thing since those are three classic films. Will Ferrell plays IRS agent Howard Crick who, unbeknownst to him til he starts to hear her voice narrating his life story, is a character in the latest book of author Kay Effel (played to perfection by the always brilliant Emma Thompson). Maggie Gyllenhaal plays the obligatory love interest and Dustin Hoffman is a riot as a Literature professor trying to determine what kind of novel Howard is living in. Howard soon discovers that Kay plans on killing him, and thus the film becomes a tale of recapturing life while you still can and also trying to find his author before she can actually kill him.

Emma Thompson was absolutely spectacular in this film. She’s truly one of the great female actresses of her generation, and it’s a shame that she hasn’t gotten a wider exposure to American audiences. She plays the role of Kay, a neurotic, chain-smoking writer with a serious case of writer’s block with such pathos and power that you easily remember why she’s won one acting Oscar and been nominated for two others. Maggie Gyllenhaal also shows why she is the queen of the indie scene. Will Ferrell is surprisingly low-key in this necessarily dramatic role, and it’s a refreshing departure from his constant and grating persona of the man-child.

The films’ major flaw is the ending, which without wanting to ruin anything, is a major puss-0ut on the writer’s part from something that could have been much more beautiful and sincere instead of a ridiculous deus ex machina although at least the film has the decency to lampshade this fact. The idea for the film itself isn’t terribly original. It just picked and chose different themes from other different films, but it had the sense to pick good ones and uses its inspirations well. I like this movie a lot. I really can’t think of anyone that I wouldn’t recommend it to. If you don’t leave the film feeling good about yourself and having had your brain sufficiently stimulated, then we just have different tastes in films.

Final Score: B+