Everything Must Go
Directed by Dan Rush
Screenplay by Dan Rush based on a short story by Raymond Carver
Will Ferrell as Nick Halsey
Rebecca Hall as Samantha
Laura Dern as Delilah
Running time: 96 minutes
Motion Picture Rating: Rated R for language and some sexual content.
Will Ferrell Stretches His Dramatic Chops
As strange as it might sound, despite his massive popularity, Will Ferrell is somewhat underrated. Often critically unappreciated, many of his movies do stand above the vast majority of comedies released every year. Films like Step Brothers and The Other Guys that probably shouldn’t work, actually do (definitely more so than Adam Sandler’s recent offerings). Whether or not you want to credit Adam McKay (who co-wrote and directed those films) for showing the best side of Will Ferrell, the man has a talent and he continues to show a respectable willingness to embrace odd and absurd realms of comedy with films like Funny or Die and Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show.
But, as hacky as this sounds, this week’s release Everything Must Go, shows a vastly different side to the star of Land of the Lost and Bewitched, and it’s a good one. Although Will Ferrell has tried his hand at “dramedies” before (most notably in Woody Allen’s 2004 Melinda and Melinda and 2006’s Stranger than Fiction about a man who realizes his life is being written about in a novel), Everything Must Go falls much closer on the spectrum to drama than either of those two.
Based on a Raymond Carver short story, in writer-director Dan Rush’s first film Will Ferrell stars as regional vice president/salesman Nick Halsey, a recovering alcoholic just fired from his job by his superior (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s Glenn Howerton) due to an incident where he relapsed during a business meeting and an employee made allegations against him. He arrives home to find all his stuff on the lawn, his wife wanting a divorce, and locked out of his own home with his bank account frozen and cell phone service cut off. With his life at rock bottom, Nick returns to the bottle or, more specifically, the can (well case) of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
By the end of Nick’s second night on the lawn, his AA sponsor, Detective Frank Garcia (Michael Peña from the Ferrell-produced HBO series Eastbound and Down), informs him that the only way he can continue to leave all his possessions on the lawn is if he is holding a yard sale in five days, per city ordinance. The rest of the cast is rounded out by Samantha, a new neighbor from across the street whose life is also somewhat in depressing turmoil (indie film favorite Rebecca Hall — Vicky Christina Barcelona, Frost/Nixon, Please Give, and The Town) and Kenny (Christopher Jordan Wallace (Notorious BIG’s son)) as a young kid whom Nick befriends. The omnipresent Stephen Root (NewsRadio, Office Space, No Country for Old Men) also has a smaller role as Nick’s next door neighbor.
This is an interesting movie to come out at the tail end of Will Ferrell’s spin on The Office, where he played regional manager/salesman D’Angelo Vickers in typical comedic Will Ferrell fashion. Yet, while Everything Must Go leaves plenty of room for Will Ferrell, Comedy Star to emerge, he never does. He plays his role subtly and quietly, even during his more emotional moments. Nick is an average man. He’s not witty, smart, or charming. He’s bloated, miserable, and lost. Nick is not really a bad guy, but he’s not a particularly good one either. He’s a realistic sad sack. Though you might feel bad for Nick, you never really pity him. But more importantly, he doesn’t pity himself. He knows who he is and while he might hate who that is, he does not delude himself into believing he is someone different or worthy of something better. When he sacrifices his six-month sobriety, it’s a believable and understandable way for him to deal with the crises he’s facing. And Will Ferrell sells it.
The film itself is an adequate small character drama, albeit one with high profile actors. That might sound like an insult, but it’s not meant to be one. Everything Must Go never reaches the emotional heights or poignancy of Alexander Payne’s brilliant About Schmidt, which is also about a man losing his job and his wife almost simultaneously, but it’s better than most of the other films in the genre. It feels a lot more honest than Up in the Air, which also dealt with an executive forced to find himself amidst a world of unemployment.
What sets Everything Must Go apart from those films is its lack of catharsis. Nick never has that BIG moment where he truly gets vengeance on those who wronged him, shouts to the heavens, or leaves a curse-laden voice mail. The bad guys never get their comeuppance and even allies aren’t always benevolent. Friendship (particularly between Nick and Samantha and Nick and Kenny) grows, but love doesn’t. “Redemption” remains ever uncertain.
A common complaint I’ve heard about Everything Must Go is that “nothing happens.” That’s the point. In real life, things rarely happen. Even immediately after a personal catastrophe occurs, life more or less returns to its own pace. External and internal changes take place slowly and usually imperceptibly. Life lessons aren’t met with a swelling of strings and a look of epiphany. When stuff happens, we absorb it over time. The impact of the people we meet might only last for a day or it might last for a lifetime. But when it happens we don’t know, we can’t know, and that sad ambiguity about the future and who we are drives the film.