Everything Must Go
A low-key Will Ferrell dips his toe in the melancholy suburbs of Raymond Carver
Everything Must Go (2011)
Directed by Dan Rush
Cast: Will Ferrell, Rebecca Hall, Christopher Jordan Wallace
While fellow funnymen Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller and Jack Black are content to stay in their comfort zones making the same mainstream, man-boy chucklefests over and over, Will Ferrell at least gets credit for trying something new now and again. Of late, he started his own Internet comedy channel (funnyordie.com), briefly replaced Steve Carell on “The Office” and even took over for Ad-Rock in a Beastie Boys video. Now, the ubiquitous comedian is headlining an intriguing little indie dramedy called Everything Must Go.
The film is based on a short story by Raymond Carver, whose terse work informed Robert Altman’s 1993 anthology Short Cuts. Ferrell stars as Nick Halsey, a self-destructive salesman in the midst of an all-out crisis. After being fired unceremoniously from his job, Nick returns to his home in suburban Phoenix to find that his wife has left him. Adding insult to injury, she’s dumped all his belongings on the front lawn, changed the locks on the house and canceled his credit cards. The bottom has dropped out under Nick, big time, and he decides to surrender to the free fall. A recovering alcoholic, Nick purchases a case of beer and takes up residence on the front lawn, surrounded by the detritus of his failed life.
The essence of Carver’s minimalist story is intact. Our protagonist masks his situation from his neighbors by holding a weeklong “yard sale.” Only he isn’t interested in selling anything. He just doesn’t want to move on. He doesn’t want to let go. And so he sits in an old Naugahyde recliner, alongside clothing, furniture and household decorations he has no real connection to—other than the fact that they remind him of “better” days.
Ferrell does commendable work here, comparable to what he did in the highly underrated 2006 film Stranger Than Fiction. Ferrell’s got a real skill for balancing funny with pathetic. Perhaps it’s a lack of vanity. He doesn’t overplay things here. He keeps it subtle. Nick isn’t stumbling drunk or totally wallowing in his own misery. Wisely, Ferrell never lets us too close to the character. Nick, we’re pretty sure, is no hero. Sure, he’s full of good intentions. But he’s a fuck-up. There are plenty of forces at work that are beyond his control, but we suspect this is still a situation of his own creation. The only question is what he’s going to do to extricate himself from it.
Eventually, Nick befriends a lonely latchkey kid (the effortlessly skilled Christopher Jordan Wallace, son of The Notorious B.I.G.), whom he hires to help out with the yard sale. He also reaches out to a new neighbor (winsome Rebecca Hall, The Town), a pregnant newlywed moving in across the street. Together they form elements of the happy family Nick has been missing.
Everything Must Go isn’t precisely a black comedy. It’s more of a glum, seriocomic fable. There are laughs. But those expecting typical Will Ferrell-sized guffaws are likely to be underwhelmed. Drawing his inspiration from Carver’s story, first-time writer-director Dan Rush has created an origami-like film—a lovely, deceptively simple construction that’s much more intricate than it looks to be on the surface. It’s quiet, keenly observed and occasionally dips its toe in the sort of “dirty realism” that Carver loved. Not everyone will take to it, of course. It’s too small, too low-key to stand out at a multiplex. And as serious as it gets, it lacks the social “sting” of Carver’s most trenchant work. Still, it’s a welcome change of pace for Ferrell and a good-natured reminder that sometimes a little navel-gazing is good for the soul.