The Campaign, which came out last summer, was a sometimes-quite-funny satire of the emptiness of campaign rhetoric and political positions. Will Ferrell starred in that movie, but his endorsement of Eric Garcetti for Los Angles Mayor is actually a much shorter and funnier version of it:
It’s pretty depressing that most of what politicians promise us has the substance of Tuesday waffles—and they have this same level of commitment to actually making Tuesday waffles happen.
The great genius of Will Ferrell is his capacity for embodying pompous, privileged blowhards in movies that critique them and gives them opportunities to grow—his actorly portfolio is one in which almost no one is irredeemable. In the past, he’s done this with sexist news anchors in the 1970s and NASCAR drivers in our own day. And now he’s taking on some of the most cosseted, self-important people in America: our politicians. What looks great about The Campaign is how squarely it’s aimed at the practices of the modern election, rather than at voters or democracy itself:
It’s all there: the John Edwards-like obsession with looks, the conviction that the candidate must be at the center of attention even in the aftermath of his own gaffe (or, okay, baby-punching), the pablum of pander. To my knowledge, no existing American politician has declared that “Filipino Tilt-a-Whirl Operators are this nation’s backbone,” but I eagerly await the day when one does. The Campaign looks to be the inverse of Parks and Recreation—hopefully it’ll help us bide time until that noble pean to the best in American politics returns to the air.
When we got word that Anchorman 2 was finally happening, I wondered if the second movie would be as awesomely feminist as the first. Empire Magazine interviewed director Adam McKay, and while he says the script isn’t even close to done, the movie will tackle an entirely different kind of diversity:
So what will the sequel have in store for Ron and the team? Nothing good – at least, not if you’re a luxuriously-maned, change-averse ’70s sex dinosaur. “We know these guys never deal well with change,” says McKay, “and the good thing is that there’s a big blast of change coming, according to the regular timeline. We’re going to be throwing a lot of innovation at them, and they’re not going to handle it well.”
So what does that sinister-sounding “regular timeline” mean for KVWN-TV? “It’s right when all the news started changing with the 24-hours news cycle in ’78 or ’79,” McKay explains. “All of a sudden, local news stations diversified and had Latino anchors and African-American anchors, and any time you’re talking about diversity and the Action News team, that’s always fun to deal with.”
That delights this progressive’s heart (it should be noted that McKay is a staunch progressive whose side project involves supporting liberal political songwriting). And it’s also a chance to riff off the utter genius of the news team rumble from the first movie, which remains an incredibly witty explication of weapons preference, if not the world’s best piece of fight choreography:
The joyous news is upon us: after years of waiting, we’re finally getting a sequel to the seminal frat pack movie Anchorman. Ron Burgundy and his mustache and jazz flute will ride again! I hope, though, that Anchorman 2 is smart enough to recognize that a lot of what made the original—a story about an outrageously manly San Diego news team learning to deal with their new female coworker in the 1970s—such a comedic masterpiece was its feminism. As a satire of blustering, clueless masculinity and male misconceptions about women, Anchorman is nigh-unequaled in our recent popular culture.
The members of Ron’s news team are posturing, peacocking, competitive, wannabe gentlemanly idiots even before Veronica Corningstone, a sexy, smart female anchor transfers in to join their team as part of the rising tide of women’s lib:
Once she arrives, the team reacts with sheer panic. Has there been a better encapsulation of uninformed, sexist ranting in terror at the loss of privilege than Brick Tamland hollering “I don’t know what we’re talking about!” and “Loud noises!” in the movies since?
These guys know absolutely nothing about women.
And the great joy of the movie is that, by its end, it’s about feminism’s victory. The women at the station where Ron and his team work stand up for themselves and demand better treatment. Veronica proves herself as a smart, competent reporter and anchor. Sports reporter Champ Kind learns that just because Ron’s heart is engaged doesn’t mean he’s lost his best friend. No one loses, unless you count Luke Wilson’s repeated maiming in the news team anchor rumble, still one of the funniest action sequences in quite some time. We need more men in pop culture to have that realization that the rise of women doesn’t automatically make their lives poorer. When it comes to family bands and bear births, feminism can mean that everybody wins.
There’s an extent to which Will Ferrell’s always been a political artist. Jacobim Mugatu’s a crude if effective satire on the cluelessness and grotesquerie of the fashion industry. Ron Burgundy’s the last gasp of the resplendent patriarchy. Ricky Bobby is the redemption and refinement of Red State America. There’s the Bush impersonations, which he took from Saturday Night Live to the stage. His turn as Bob Woodward in the spectacularly funny and underrated Dick. Not to mention the general portrayal of flailing, panicked, arrested development, which in and of themselves are an ongoing exploration of gender and dogma, be it Chazz Reinhold, a pathetic seducer with a grand theory in Wedding Crashers (itself a movie about the private lives of the power elite), or failed celebrity Jackie Moon trying to save a sports team in a failing media market in Semi-Pro.
But it seems that Ferrell’s turning to more explicitly political work. The Other Guys may have only been retconned to be about the financial crisis, but Ferrell’s next project, Swear to God, will have him playing a hedge fund manager who reconsiders his life and the impact of his life’s work on other people after what he believes is an encounter with the divine. And that comes after he shoots Southern Rivals this fall, in which he and Zach Galifianakis play rival politicians fighting over a Congressional seat. The movie’s set to come out in the midst of the 2012 elections. Given that he’s already played a figure of the establishment press (and man would I love to see Ferrell parody Woodward in Great Man mode), Ferrell’s really covering all the bases here.
And in a way, I sort of feel like Ferrell’s arrested development roles, his honing of his angry man schtick, is perfect training for taking on politics in this schizophrenic moment. Our political arena simultaneously wildly crude and elegant. You can stay on the air if you mock the President’s daughters, but then have to abase yourself and embrace your suspension if you call Obama a dick. We elect grace and dignity to the highest office in the land in one election, then choose fulmination and factlessness for our legislature in our subsequent trip to the polls. Ferrell’s very good at playing people with vast reservoirs of rage and crabbed perspectives, and it’s made him a very successful comedian. But that success is because there’s an extent to which that disparity is a distillation of our age, and I can’t wait to watch him make that darkness even more pointed and visible.