Great Oden’s Raven! This week, I’ve decided to write my Feminist Lens Movie Review about the 2004 comedy, Anchorman.
But why Anchorman, you might ask? The answer is two-fold. First, I have a bunch of choices, many of which fall under the horror/action/thriller genres. Anchorman is very different in that regard. Second, despite presenting a shiny veneer of feminism and equality, the movie still contains a number of problematic elements. So grab your popcorn and bust out that Sex Panther cologne from your private stash—it’s time for another edition of the Feminist Lens.
I’d like to start by saying that I do like Anchorman. The movie is legitimately funny. It has a great cast, and in 2004, comedians like Will Ferrell and Steve Carell were still fresh. Unfortunately, they did subsequently fall into the common comedic rut of playing the same character over and over, but I digress…
On the surface, Anchorman is a movie about feminism. Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) and his news team are successful and sexist. The office environment is a boys club, and the Channel 4 news team continues their escapades outside of work. The team dynamic changes when new reporter, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) is hired. The foursome takes turns making a pass at sleeping with her, and she resists. After all, Corningstone has “seen this before.” She has goals of breaking through as the first female anchor on network television. Even the charms of Will Ferrell’s “irresistible” character fail—for about a ten minute stretch.
Corningstone falls for Burgundy, causing a divide in the newsroom. The team is mocked by rival news programs, with humorous consequences. When Ron Burgundy can’t make it to read the news on time, Veronica Corningstone gets her chance to shine—and shine she does. Of course, Burgundy can’t handle her success, bad things happen, and he is fired.
At the end of the film, Veronica attempts to get a great shot of pandas at the zoo giving birth. Though she finds the perfect angle, she is pushed into the bear exhibit. What does this smart, resourceful woman do? She gets saved by Burgundy and the news team. Well, the dog really saves the day, but that’s beside the point. Burgundy is given back his job as anchor to tell the panda story in front of a network talent scout. He has now seen the light, and invites Veronica to tell the story with him. They both end up reaching their dreams as network anchors. The end.
So what’s the problem? Doesn’t Anchorman do a good job or mixing an important message with humor? Is the movie not feminist enough?
The answer is complicated. Anchorman brings feminism to the forefront of America. However, it does so in a way that doesn’t challenge anything. The story is conventional—the main character is a man, he falls in love, he falls from grace, and then returns to glory, saving the woman he loved in the process. While the comedy was fresh at the time, the plot line is stock standard.
In addition, the choice of setting the movie in the 1970’s takes away all the threat. Everyone knows women weren’t equal in the 70’s, right? Anchorman just gives us a funny look at that kooky time in our history. Thankfully, real life women similar to Veronica Corningstone made sure that women are equal in today’s workplace—they now have the same opportunities, are paid the same, and never get sexually harassed…oh…right…
Look, the writers probably didn’t pick the 1970’s in order to convey the above subliminal message. They picked the period because it fit the story and is a decently funny decade to joke about. However, unconsciously or not, this is the message that comes across. We laugh about the sexism in Anchorman because it can’t possibly happen today. Those times are behind us—but they aren’t.
This is my biggest problem with the movie. While some may herald the film as a breakthrough in making feminism marketable, I’d just as quickly argue that there is a regressive element to the Anchorman as well. Anchorman is yet another outlet that tries to make us believe that feminism’s work is done and over with. This is a problem, regardless of the intent.
Again, I like Anchorman. The critics did too, as the movie received generally favorable reviews. Part of the reason is because the film attempted to take on a larger message of gender equality. A sequel is coming this year, so it will be interesting to see the route they take.
Am I being too harsh on Anchorman? I hope that wasn’t the take away from this. I simply believe that audiences need to examine the movie (and all movies, really) in a critical way. I like Anchorman because it is funny, well cast, and generally well written. I just don’t believe that the overall message is as much of a landslide victory for feminism as many others do.
What does the Shout Out! community think? Am I way off base on this one, or am I on to something here? As always, I love to hear from readers!