Ever since its start in the 1970s, Saturday Night Live has been a vetting ground for many comedians. The successful ones find their niche and develop recurring characters, eventually transferring these skits onto the big screen. Sometimes these films are successful and timeless. Movies like The Blues Brothers (1980) and Wayne’s World (1992) had their beginnings as bits on SNL. That being said, not all of the SNL films are that great (let’s all try to forget MacGruber (2010)). For Will Ferrell, his breakout SNL film was that of A Night at the Roxbury (1998). Since then, he has acted in numerous comedies, to various levels of success. And while most of the roles Ferrell takes on are rather crass, there are occasionally some gems that show he has a bit more talent. This week’s two films are just such examples of Will Ferrell’s acting talent.
Length: 97 minutes / 1.62 hours
For the most part, as I mentioned above, the movies Will Ferrell appears in are not family-friendly. A lot of them rely on shock-humor to be gross enough to elicit laughs for the sheer ridiculous nature of the act. Fortunately, there are a few gems safe for viewers of all ages. More recently, he has lent his voice to some animated fare, which has been quite good. Films like Curious George (2006), Megamind (2010), and The Lego Movie (2014) all have Ferrell’s distinctive voice in a lead role. Even though most people recognize Will Ferrell from such films as Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006), many also know him from the modern Christmas classic, Elf (2003). While the majority of this film is appropriate for all ages, there are still elements of the “fart humor” that plagues his other films.
With an origin story akin to a Christmas-y The Jungle Book (1967), Santa Claus (Ed Asner) finds that a baby has been brought back to the North Pole in the now-empty sack of gifts. Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) agrees to raise the child, despite knowing the truth about the boy’s non-elf origins. Going by the name of Buddy, due to the brand-name on his diaper, this lost child eventually grows into manhood. Despite his obvious differences, Buddy (Will Ferrell) is convinced he is one of the elves. One day, he learns he is human and is now convinced he needs to go to New York City to find his father, Walter Hobbs (James Caan). Once there, he finds this world to be a lot harsher than the North Pole, but he makes the best of it, eventually saving the day and redeeming his father, who has been on the “naughty list” for many years.
Stranger than Fiction
Length: 113 minutes / 1.88 hours
As is the case with other SNL-alumni (Steve Martin and Adam Sandler most notably), sometimes the draw of a more dramatic role can prove to be a shining gem in an otherwise lackluster filmography. These roles may still end up in comedies, but they’re a little more refined than the normal roles often filled by these actors. For Will Ferrell, his roles in such films as Bewitched (2005) and Everything Must Go (2010) show he has a greater range as an actor than just a slapstick foil. For me, I was quite skeptical when I went to go see Stranger than Fiction (2006), as I had become used to the types of characters Ferrell portrays. That being said, I was blown away by the heartfelt, down-to-earth performance in this film. I have seen a lot of Will Ferrell films over the years, but I must say that this one is his greatest achievement as an actor.
Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) works in the least-comedic of jobs: an agent for the Internal Revenue Service. Every day is a set routine for him, living his life according to his wristwatch. That is until he starts hearing a voice narrating the things he does. When his watch stops, he resets it and overhears the voice saying that this action has led to his eventual death. Concerned with this new development, he sees a psychiatrist, who suggests he discuss this narration with a literary expert. Enter Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), who attempts to place the narrator by having Harold figure out whether he’s in a tragedy or a comedy. The story teeters between comedy and tragedy as Harold lives his last days, eventually pushing a boy out of the way of an oncoming bus, which strikes him instead. In a turn of fortune, he lives, but only due to his wristwatch.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 fabulous Ferrell roles
Bacon #: 2 (Stranger than Fiction / Tom Hulce -> Animal House / Kevin Bacon)