This week, the release of Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues reunites everyone's favorite 70s journalists for another adventure in the newsroom. The highly-anticipated sequel from director and producer Adam McKay also introduces a new character, played by Meagan Good, who joins Christina Applegate as the film's second female lead.
Just as its precursor — 2004's Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy — did, this new installment touches on issues of sexism in broadcast journalism. And though its plot and cast remain mostly male-centric, Anchorman 2 does women a solid this time around: Its three-dimensional female characters are sexy, smart, and strong, and make for a bitingly humorous critique of the sexist mindsets of the era.
Warning: minor spoilers follow.
The film takes us from the 1970s to the 80s. San Diego news anchor Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) and wife and anchorwoman Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) find themselves at odds when Ron is fired and Veronica lands a job as a nightly news anchor at WBC in New York. Not willing to be outdone by a woman, Ron gives Veronica an ultimatum — "It's me, or your job" — only to find himself unemployed and alone. After later being recruited for a job at a 24-hour news channel, Ron assembles his former team: Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), Champ Kind (David Koechner) and Brick Tamland (Steve Carell). The boys are back together, but disconcerted to find they're being managed by a woman, head of GNN Linda Jackson (Good).
Set in a time when women, especially black women, were rarely in such a position of power, the film indicates the prevalent sexism and racism of the era while also pointing out the absurdity of those attitudes. Linda is clearly far more competent and intelligent than most of the men she works with, and she's not afraid to assert her authority and dominance. Though Ron disrespects her at first (such as by blurting out "black" while she speaks), he's also intimidated by her no-nonsense personality and unapologetic sexuality.
Importantly, Linda never makes excuses for her powerful position or desire. She and Ron get into a physical fight over network issues, and she punches him in the stomach; later she finds herself attracted to Ron and goes after him just as strongly, even making him bark like a dog and meow like a cat for her pleasure. Ron is terrified of Linda, but ultimately comes to respect her (granted, this is also because he's attracted to her). She proves she can be just as feisty as one of the boys, and declares herself a "modern woman" who goes after what she wants.
Applegate gets a meatier role this time around. The actress said she felt she needed to prove herself in this film because "the male characters in this movie are strong and multi-dimensional," but it's arguably her Veronica that is the most complex and multifaceted character of all. Though the plot centers on Ron and his journey into round-the-clock news, the story is essentially driven by Veronica's refusal to play into Ron's discomfort with powerful, successful women.
Veronica tries to be reasonable with Ron during his tantrum over her job opportunity, but doesn't back down because she (rightly) feels that her success is just as important as his. When Ron tries to swoop back into her life, she patiently gives him a chance until he quickly proves his attitude hasn't changed. Though she eventually leaves her anchor position, it's not because of the man in her life, but rather because of a personal disconnect with what journalism has become.
While Veronica and Linda may serve as a mechanism to keep Ron in check, they're never depicted as nagging or condescending in the way these roles so often are. Nor are they the only reasons Ron is eventually humbled. Veronica pushes Ron to be a good father and husband by both taking care of him and by not putting up with his nonsense (which includes saying things like, "Do you realize that you're talking to a man who just this morning tried to brush his teeth with a live lobster?"). Applegate portrays kindness and toughness in a way that's disarmingly relatable for a film that also has an entire song devoted to a pet shark.
The sequel may not be as good as the original, but its female leads more than hold their own against the men onscreen. And as modern attitudes toward gender and race continue to progress and evolve, it's important for comedies like this to stop relying on stereotypical tropes that feel outdated and unrelatable. Anchorman 2 shows audiences that it's possible for comedies to have multidimensional female characters — and still be funny.
For what it is, Anchorman 2 does a surprisingly great job at bringing us well-rounded, complex women, without whom the movie would be far less palatable. This isn't a perfect portrayal, to be sure, but let's not get trapped in a glass case of emotion: The movie is supposed to be ridiculous.