When a hotel offers you free Badoit sparkling mineral water, you don’t turn it down. Instead, you ignore the fact that you don’t really like sparkling water, pour it in a tall glass with ice and a lemon wedge, and power through. Because if you are going to play the part, then you better play the goddamn part.
After all it only seems right when sitting down, Badoit in hand, for an interview with Adam McKay, director of such outlandish and ambitious comedies as Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Step Brothers, The Other Guys, and of course Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, to have the decency to chug that disgusting bubble water, break the glass over the table, look McKay square in the eye, and confidently declare that you’ll have another.
Where am I going with this? Not sure, but dammit I’m going.
The point is: commitment and perseverance. With Anchorman 2, as with all of McKay’s work, an idea’s worth is only determined by its potential to be stretched to an absurdist breaking point. And so when Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) – the man, the myth, the legend – falls, he falls hard. As McKay explains, “Ron Burgundy is pure ego. He’s all highs and lows. When he’s high, he’s crazy high, and when he’s low, he’s crazy low.”
Structurally, McKay and co-writer Ferrell do not operate in peaks and valleys. They operate on Mount Everest and the damn Mariana Trench. This may seem an exhausting venture, and to some viewers it is, but McKay and Ferrell have the good sense to carefully meter and contain their extremes. McKay believes, “The trickiest part of any movie is that late second act. We know that, so we always try to do something more absurd or crazy or exaggerated to make it a bit more lively.”
In both Anchorman films there comes that magic moment when the story and the comedy seem to break open and all becomes possible. Whether it’s a teleprompter f-bomb or [SPOILER] an ice rink disaster, the demise of Papa Burgundy inevitably brings about some of the most surreal and Dada comedy you are likely to see in mainstream film, breathing new life into the film and sending the viewer into the climax refreshed and excited.
Of course, then, the problem invariably arises: when the first Anchorman has already plunged such bearded, milk-guzzling depths, what’s left for a sequel?
Interestingly enough, for McKay and Ferrell the answer to that question was based purely on story and a penchant for social (and sometimes decidedly political) commentary that has been cropping up in McKay’s work. For example, check out the surprisingly charged
credits of The Other Guys.
“Once we discovered the 24 hour news, and we realized that it began in the eighties, we were like – oh – we have a second chapter we can tell. That’s a big story to tell.” And it’s one that feels right at home with McKay’s style. There was a certain shock value to the ultimate statement of The Other Guys. It was unexpected, but also pretty punk rock (in my humble opinion). With Anchorman 2, on the other hand, we see the disintegration of broadcast integrity into the whacked out mess we are inundated with today. It’s a story that is already so bizarre that Ron Burgundy fits right in.
This all lends Anchorman 2 a sense of cohesion and unfiltered earnestness through which McKay and Ferrell’s personality’s shine. Though Step Brothers was the most honest expression of their comedic sensibilities (McKay admitted, “With that one we said let’s purely make a movie to make us laugh and see what happens.”), Anchorman 2 may be the most cohesive integration of McKay and Ferrell’s rising interests: comedy, story, and commentary all rolled together.
In its final act, Anchorman 2 becomes the spectacle that Ron Burgundy worked so hard – well actually it seemed to come pretty naturally – to create on the news. It is fitting that once he realizes the monster he has unleashed, Ron must fight through it to return to his happy family life. Explosions. Punch lines. An unbelievable excess of celebrity cameos. They all come to a spectacular, if not overwhelming, head in the movie’s big finish.
It’s moments like this when the film becomes so unflinchingly detached from reality that Anchorman 2’s true meaning presents itself: this unstoppable excess doesn’t reveal the truth, it distracts from it.
In the context of today’s broadcast news, that’s pretty depressing.
But in the context of this movie? Well, it’s a hell of a lot of fun. So I’ll raise my glass to you, Adam McKay, and then gladly chug that terrible, terrible Badoit.