DVD Review: A sneakily touching study in serio-comic inertia, Everything Must Go is the story of an alcoholic whose life and belongings are spread out for all to see on his and his estranged wife’s lawn. Crying-on-the-inside clown Will Ferrell plays it mostly straight without walls—or buffoonish humor—to hide behind.
It’s a show-biz cliché redeemed by accuracy: Comedians are often some of the saddest, if not downright tormented people around. Which is why as soon as they make it big for bringing the yuks, so many comic actors start looking to go serious.
Will Ferrell’s done the semi-dramatic thing before in Stranger Than Fiction and Melinda and Melinda (not to mention the little-seen Winter Passing), but in those he kept one foot safely in Lovable Loser Land or hid in an ensemble.
In Everything Must Go Ferrell shucks the likeability and jokes for the most part as Nick, a married, childless, functioning alcoholic who–on the same day he loses his sales job–returns home to find his wife has left him, put his belongings in their suburban front yard, locked him out of the house, and cut off his bank and cell-phone accounts.
Middle-aged Nick has a slow-burn temper manifested in surly, impotent aggression, but he’s no buffoon or raging maniac. There’s no seething darkness here, just an apathetic man giving up. Nick’s preferred method of managing his self-destruction is to settle in amongst his stuff, crack a bottomless beer, and let inertia take over. (There’s still Ferrellian humor sprinkled around in a minor key. “How much have you had to drink,” asks Nick’s sponsor. “In my opinion, not enough,” he replies.)
Out there in the open, exposed to the sprinkler system and the neighbors’ scorn, that “stuff” on the lawn—lamps, trophies, furniture, and appliances—looks small and disconnected, hardly enough to suggest a life. So naturally, to keep the symbolism rolling, Nick must hold a yard sale to get rid of it.
Eventually others drift across Nick’s lawn (though we never meet his absent wife): The terrific Michael Pena (The Lincoln Lawyer, Battle: Los Angeles) as Nick’s cop-friend/AA sponsor, the always sadly luminous Rebecca Hall (The Town, Please Give) as a new neighbor also adrift, and a wonderful Laura Dern as an old high-school crush who’s grown into a portrait of realistic grace.
But the task of keeping Nick—and the film—from sinking into empty, suburban torpor falls to Kenny, a neighborhood kid who keeps hanging around for his own reasons of alienation. (Kenny’s effectively played by Christopher Jordan Wallace, a young actor whose only other film role was playing his late rapper father Christopher “Biggie Smalls” Wallace in Notorious.)
The idea of an innocent youngster “saving” an older character from himself is far from fresh (Up was a recent iteration), but Kenny’s quiet, perhaps oblivious patience and quest for a father figure, no matter how damaged, gives us a reason to care about the otherwise incorrigible Nick.
First-time director Dan Rush adapted Everything Must Go’s screenplay from Raymond Carver’s short story “Why Don’t You Dance?” Rush takes a few predictable short cuts (playing The Band’s “I Shall Be Released” is an easy but effective way to induce a too-pat epiphany), but for the most part he quietly maintains a nicely measured distance from anything like cheap pathos.
Wrapped in Carver and Rush’s suburban soul-searching, Ferrell acquits himself nicely. Granted, the same impassive, deadpan stare he often uses to comic effect works just as well when playing numbed-out bottom-hitting, but the acting tools are clearly there for more roles of this type.
Everything Must Go is darker, but thanks to Ferrell’s presence and a healing-minded script, it’s not lost in despair. Other than as a dramatic step for its lead, the film doesn’t break new ground, but neither does it stumble or fail. Instead it carefully finds its way into something like the redemption Nick doesn’t know he’s seeking.
More from the cast of Everything Must Go at redbox:
- Will Ferrell in Anchorman and The Other Guys on DVD and Blu-ray
- Rebecca Hall in The Town on DVD and Blu-ray
- Michael Pena in The Lincoln Lawyer on DVD or Blu-ray and Battle: Los Angeles on DVD and Blu-ray
- Stephen Root in Cedar Rapids