Thursday, 24 July 2008

A Bridge Too Far

The advent of a new Will Ferrell movie is not cause for quite so much excitement for me as it is for my fellow bloggers, but I am a fan of the Ferrell. He rescued Wedding Crashers and Old School from total mediocrity; he taught Kevin Smith’s coterie a thing or two about comedy in Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back; he turned Elf from a potentially squicky schmoopfest into an adorable festive gem; Anchorman obviously fucking owns, and is a lot cleverer than it’s given credit for; I frequently need more cowbell; and, of course, he invented the piano-key tie. Despite his occasional tendency to coast, generally I think his success is one of the most pleasing things about the US movie industry today. It’s great to see people making risky comedies (by which I mean not that they are somehow ‘dangerous’, but that their material walks a fine line between audience-pleasing yuks and weird, even surreal humour that might easily miss the target) and it’s even better to see that people genuinely like them and go back for more.

It is with some sadness, then, that I must bring an end to my Ferrell appreciation. I was watching The Daily Show this week on More4, and received a nasty shock when Ferrell and John C. Reilly appeared on the programme to promote Step Brothers.

Your eyes do not deceive you, gentle reader: Ferrell is indeed wearing a Chelsea FC replica shirt. Chelsea! Of all the clubs! Chelsea, the upstart, nouveau-riche braggart of the English Premier League. The club bankrolled by a man who bought and bullied his way to enormous political and financial influence. The club captained by that charming John Terry. The club that spent over £50 million in fees and wages on a waning Ukrainian striker just to show off to everyone else that they could. The club that epitomises the rapacious, tawdry, mercenary, ultra-capitalist, self-serving free-for-all that English football has become.

I assume that Ferrell did not grow up on a council estate in southwest London being taken to Stamford Bridge every Saturday by his Blues-mad parents. Had Jon Stewart asked him what he thought about Luiz Felipe Scolari’s appointment as coach or if Didier Drogba had a future at the club, I doubt he could have answered. So why is a 41-year-old American prancing around in a Chelsea strip? Thirty seconds’ further investigation shows that this is not an isolated incident – he’s been pimping that shirt everywhere. Here’s Ferrell at a party for the release of his friend Danny McBride’s movie The Foot Fist Way:

Here he is on ABC News talking about Step Brothers:

Here he is on TRL:

I am baffled as to the reasons behind this newfound support for the most reviled sporting institution in England. While some comedians court and even thrive on hostility from their audiences, Ferrell is not that type. His characters are sometimes aggressive or unpleasant, but his overweening characteristic is “lovable”. He’s a puppy with a hat on, peeping out of a cardboard box and offering to do your ironing. That’s how lovable he is. He’s a jolly, friendly, cuddly, lovable comic… in a Chelsea shirt. No. No, that doesn’t work at all.

So why did Ferrell turn to the dark side? I suppose it’s possible that the club is paying him to wear the shirt for exposure, although this is unlikely because he would have been given the new 2008-09 season’s shirt, rather than the five-year-old version he’s twatting about in. Or maybe he really, really likes to Fly Emirates – but wearing the shirt won’t get him too many free tickets, since Chelsea ditched the airline’s sponsorship deal in favour of a more lucrative offer from Samsung. (Surely Arsenal, whose home is the Emirates Stadium and who play more attractive football and who, you know, aren’t Chelsea, would be a more enticing option.) Maybe he just likes blue. Frankly, that’s not good enough. Why not choose an eminently more likeable team, such as Colchester United? Or Peterborough United? Or Birmingham City? (Well, perhaps not Birmingham.)

The only way I can come to terms with his choice of club is to assume it’s some form of performance, that he’s playing the role of a Chelsea fan to gauge public reaction. Clearly he’s desperate to get one of those roles playing a serial killer or a corrupt police officer or a flawed father figure so that, like so many comedians before him, he can show range and get an Oscar nomination. He can’t be any of those bad people in the real world, so this is the next best thing. Can he walk around clad in his unholy finery and retain that lovable persona? Has he generated sufficient goodwill to prevent the masses turning on him with pitchforks and torches? Are memories of Mugatu and Ron Burgundy and Buddy enough to deflect attention from his apparent journey into the heart of darkness? If so, then he can play a mass murderer without permanent damage to his celebrity!

It’s literally the only explanation that makes sense.

But plenty of likeable actors have done the playing-evil thing and come out unharmed. Matt Damon in The Talented Mr Ripley. Kevin Bacon in The Woodsman. Robert Mitchum in Night Of The Hunter. Ferrell’s got it the wrong way around. I would happily have watched him take on a challenging role – but now I think of him as a Chelsea fan, I don’t think any amount of residual affection can atone for such an egregious misjudgment. He could spend a year wearing the colours of a nicer, fluffier club – like Unicef-endorsing Barcelona or fan-owned Ebbsfleet United or, I don’t know, Hell Bastard Rovers – and it wouldn’t be enough. He’s gone too far. It’s over.



McCy said...

It's a win-win for me - I've never found Ferrell amusing, and now I have another reason to avoid him! I like films despite his presence, and Old School is a prime example of that.

Admiral Neck said...

All you haters come rain your hate here need to know it's just droplets of nuthin' to me, even though when we also saw Daily Show we were totally mystified as to the origins of the shirt. Anyway, here are the official reasons why it is not a cause for concern.

1) The great men were obviously doing a lot of different shows on the same day, and didn't have a bug up their asses about changing clothes like some pampered celebs. Hence ther repeated showings of the offending shirt.

2) Ferrell is playing a selfish, spoilt, ill-behaved, arrested adolescent asshole in Step Brothers, and what displays a commital to displaying selfish, spoilt, ill-behaved, arrested adolescent asshole behaviour better than wearing a Chelsea shirt? He's staying in character during interviews just like that Borat fellow. Reckanize!

And Step Brothers (which we caught while in the US) is a head-bending work of Dada-esque excellence. Not as good as Anchorman or Talledega Nights, and perhaps not as good as we'd hoped, but still worthy of attention. Bad McC. Bad!