Sex Panther aficionado Maggie McMuffin loves the 1970s and Adam McKay’s Anchorman. And pandas. And ten years later, she still loves all of these things.
I do not have any strong associations with Anchorman. Rather I just remember it being quoted incessantly all through high school. Like any teenager with a love of crude but smart comedy, I fell in love with Anchorman. So many one liners. So many cool outfits. Sex Panther, amiright? I probably last saw Anchorman three-to-five years ago. Maybe with my parents. Maybe with college friends. And going back for this re-view I had to wonder if the way this movie isn’t limited to one time in my life was due to it being good or if it was due to how much it seeped into our culture and how much people still reference it. Does this film have anything to offer outside of a bunch of really good quips?
It does. It really does.
As this movie opens I am reminded that Judd Apatow produced this film. I had forgotten that there was a time when he made really awesome movies that I couldn’t wait to see. And thinking about his other films that came out within the next few years and are still coming out today, I have to say I am disappointed in him for not keeping up this level. Anchorman is roughly an hour and a half long and does not need to be longer. Because the film rarely deviates into sub-plots or side stories, the pacing is great and the movie stays at a steady rhythm of jokes and melodrama for its entire run. Even the moments that could be cut are so hilarious that I don’t care that they’re in the film. One of my favorite scenes in this film and the one I was looking forward to the most is the newscaster fight. Aside from introducing rival news teams that show up during the climax, this scene doesn’t need to be in the movie but I would be sad if it wasn’t. I mean, Tim Robbins cuts off Luke Wilson’s arm. Steve Carell holds a hand grenade and yells. There’s a Planet of the Apes reference and god knows I will give points to anything that references Planet of the Apes.
This scene also gave us one of Anchorman’s most lasting lines—”well that escalated quickly”—a phrase which has become so ingrained in our culture that many people have no idea it came from a movie and not the internet or that it’s a quote from anything at all. It’s like how people quote Casablanca and All About Eve without getting the reference, but it took less than a decade to reach that point.
And for good reason. Anchorman is a good story with a good cast of characters and it combines all of the actors committing to the truth of their situations while also playing a heightened reality. There’s a good deal of soap opera levels of drama in Anchorman, with few moments where people are acting like real people act or even really talking like real people talk. But everything is played so honestly that it makes the comedy just happen. Everyone in this cast is clearly having fun while taking the project seriously and honestly this movie should be a prime example in acting schools about how to do comedy. Because comedy like this is deceptively difficult to pull off. If the actors took time after every joke to be like ‘see what I did there?’ then this movie would be twice as long. The speed that jokes are fired off mean that not only could one bad casting choice have thrown off the rhythm, it also means that audiences have to pay attention and keep up with this film. Even though not all of the jokes are highbrow or super intelligent, they come so quickly that lazy audiences would miss a lot of stuff on the first viewing. And why would you want to do that? People wrote those jokes, let’s fucking pay attention to them.
As for the story, Anchorman keeps it simple. Ron Burgundy, award winning news anchor, has his professional and personal world shaken up by the addition of a woman, Veronica Corningstone, to the news team. Soon after her arrival, she and Ron begin dating and become each other’s biggest competition.
Despite the fact that Anchorman’s subtitle is ‘The Legend of Ron Burgundy,’ Veronica gets her own story going. She never gets to overshadow Ron but we learn that she’s worked at multiple news stations and experienced sexism at each one. Veronica puts up with a lot of shit during this film. Ron announces their affair during a broadcast after she expressly asked him not to tell anyone. When she first arrives, every member of the news team hits on her in increasingly pathetic and insulting ways. Her periods are brought up as a safety concern despite the fact that women already work for the station, just not on the news team.
While Judd Apatow has been criticized for not having many decent female characters in his films (and most of those going to his wife), he does a better job here. And Christina Applegate, who went through her own fight to be taken seriously during her time as Kelly Bundy, brings a groundedness to Veronica. Veronica’s story isn’t a joke and while her harassment is played for laughs, it is also done in such an outlandish way as to parody the men in the film more than the struggling woman. Veronica doesn’t accept her treatment lying down, calls all the male characters out, and we see the other women in the film rally around her. After becoming the nation’s first female news anchor after Ron is unable to make it on time, Veronica is shocked to learn that Ron did not actually support her dream and thought she was joking. When he breaks up with her, Ron becomes increasingly more childish in his attempts to make her quit but Veronica remains steadfast and eventually gets Ron fired on her first try. She regrets it because she’s in love with him and it also derails his life but she also never gives up her position as his replacement.
Meanwhile, Ron and the rest of the Channel 4 news team are introduced more closely at a party. “We’ve been coming to the same party for twelve years now. And in no way is that depressing.”
As a teenager I really believed that the news team was cool and I knew a lot of guys who wanted to grow up to be like Ron Burgundy. I can see now that this film is not really advocating being like Ron, Champ, Brian, or even Brick (who is, unfortunately, a character I now see as a walking ableist trope who also happens to be hilarious to watch because I think they just let Steve Carell do whatever he wanted). Ron and his friends are all stylish man-children who invest more time and effort into drinking scotch and getting laid than they do at their jobs. They’re all resting on the success of their high ratings and cool hair-dos and are rewarded for it while women like Veronica are “chasing down leads and practicing my non-regional dialect.”
(By the way, as someone who went to theatre school, I can verify that a non-regional dialect is a fucking difficult thing and Veronica deserves kudos for putting in that sort of thankless effort.)
But this movie can’t be about Veronica. Because if it were really her story, this film would be a drama and Applegate would have been nominated for an Oscar. Or it would have been a romcom where in the end she chooses love over her job. Hollywood has enough issues making films with strong female leads and it’s a shame that we haven’t come further in the past ten years. Because Veronica is the sort of woman I’d see a movie about. She’s smart, capable, and still sexual on her own terms not on the terms of the male gaze. She dresses nicely but professionally and while her body is the source of many comments she’s never really flaunting it in the way that the romantic interest in male-heavy comedies tend to. Even though when we first meet her Ron says she has a breathtaking hiney, there are no lingering shots on her ass. Also, in the end, Ron learns that how he’s been treating Veronica is awful. He apologizes for everything (and she apologizes for getting him fired) and while she lets him do the panda birth story, he turns around and offers to let her do it with him. He even refers to her as his ‘co-anchor.’
So really this movie is about a man learning what feminism means. Because Ron and the rest of the team (not so much the producer, even though he only hires Veronica to keep funding) start out thinking that bringing a woman onto the news team will mean that women will take over and ruin them. In the end, Ron and Veronica become the first man/woman anchor team on an international network. Veronica changed nothing to get to where she was, she just kept fighting. Ron, however, learned that Veronica wasn’t trying to take over, she was simply trying to have the same opportunities he and other men have and that this can be much easier to achieve if men aren’t such gatekeeper about shit. Ron doesn’t even have to change his hypermasculine self to be a decent person. All he has to do is stop being such an asshole.
Unfortunately, and I include myself-as-teenager in this, a lot of people sort of missed that part of the movie. Maybe it’s because there wasn’t a t-shirt worthy quote summing it up. Which sucks because comedy is a great way to do social commentary and this movie was seen and is still seen by tons of people.
So yeah. Anchorman definitely holds up.
Now go back to making things this good, Apatow.
–That fight scene also sadly has Ben Stiller playing the Spanish News lead and that’s sort of a weird cameo to give him. And by weird I mean problematic and racist.
— The panda watch story is a great device because it gives us a steady timeline to follow and also we get to see a picture of a panda a lot.
— I have a weakness for 1970s style and a lot of the people cast in this movie. I have in my notes ‘this movie is just a parade of people I want to fuck wearing clothes I want to own.’
— I have dated two people who hated this movie/Will Ferrell. I do not understand how either of those are possible. Especially since Ferrell is essentially just tweaking his Robert Goulet impression for this film and I fucking love his Robert Goulet impression.
— Oh I forgot to mention the dog, Baxter. Baxter is cool and gets punted by Jack Black (and lives!). Jack Black being a belligerent biker is honestly my favorite thing I have ever seen him do. And I’ve seen Clone High.
— There’s a scene where Champ talks about Veronica’s ‘big ol’ behind’ and says he wants to slather it with barbecue sauce and bite it. For the past ten years I thought he was saying “butt butt butt butt“ but according to subtitles he was saying ‘bite bite bite bite’ and I like mine better.
— The feminism thing is presented well by side characters to. Danny Trejo shows up as a bartender and tells Ron that “Times are changing. Ladies can do things now. You have to deal with it.” Meanwhile the public news anchor tells Veronica that “we’re really down with the women’s lib thing” before pushing her into a Kodiak bear pit and that is just the best example of shitty male feminists I’ve ever seen. Because if you don’t think Hugo Schwyzer would do that you are just wrong.
— This film’s version of “Afternoon Delight” is the best version of “Afternoon Delight.”
— I have one burning question though. There’s a running joke where the producer/director/whatever is always on the phone talking to teachers about his troubled son and he says “I don’t know where he could have found german dungeon porn.” And I have to wonder, back before the internet, where a 17-year-old would have found that.