Will Ferrell, Christopher Jordan Wallace, Michael Pena, Laura Dern, Rebecca Hall, Stephen Root
Dan Rush, Raymond Carver (Short Story)
- Behind the scenes featurette• Audio commentary with director• Will Ferrell featurette
In Stranger Than Fiction, Will Ferrell proved that he can act.
America didn't care. While the $30 million film did manage to squeak out a profit with a $40 million U.S. box-office take, that $40 million pales in comparison to virtually everything else Ferrell has ever touched. Heck, I think even his "Funny or Die" sketches make more at the box-office.
Much like the dilemma that has faced Adam Sandler, Ferrell continues to struggle with "How do I grow old while remaining cinematically relevant?"
Everything Must Go is how.
Everything Must Go isn't a perfect film... not by a long shot. It is, however, a more box-office friendly flick than Stranger Than Paradise despite the absence of the always box-office friendly Queen Latifah. Here, Ferrell is coupled with indie darling Rebecca Hall and newbie Christopher Jordan Wallace, Notorious B.I.G.'s son. Where Stranger Than Fiction was more quirky than an outright change of pace for Ferrell, Everything Must Go is sort of akin to Adam Sandler's Punch-Drunk Love, a film that allows Ferrell to show massive acting chops of the dramatic variety while ever so often clinging to his trademark "guy next door" image (or at least guy next door on the lawn).
Everything Must Go is based upon a short story, "Why Don't You Dance," by Raymond Carver, the story of Nick Halsey (Ferrell), a corporate sales big wig who has gotten a bit too tipsy one too many times and embarrassed his employer. In the course of one day, Halsey finds himself losing his job, his car, his home and his burned out wife, who has left all of his belongings on the front lawn of their once shared home.
At a sparse 1,700 words, Carver's short story is liberally expanded upon by first-time writer/director Dan Rush. Ferrell is, rather delightfully, almost devoid of the manic, over-the-top antics that have come to define much of his work. While his initial response to this day of disaster is decidedly vengeful, Ferrell soon settles into what could best be described as a lawn ornament posed in a fetal position. Ferrell's Halsey whines, cowers, simpers, drinks, drinks more, eats a little then drinks even more. For the most part, his neighbors tolerate his behavior with the sort of looks that imply that this might not actually be that from the man he'd become anyway. Halsey is befriended by a neighborhood youth, Kenny (Christopher Wallace), whose mother works taking care of an elderly woman down the street. Kenny seems to spend most of his days wandering up and down the street on his bike, playing gentle observer and youth outcast of the modestly overweight variety. Halsey is also occasionally joined by his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor (Michael Pena), a local police detective who also for the most part keeps the police off his back for awhile.
Eventually, it becomes clear that living on the lawn isn't really a viable option and Kenny joins forces with Nick to put into place a lawn sale where, quite literally, everything must go. Of course, this being a suburban neighborhood means that Nick will eventually encounter other neighbors including the very pregnant Samantha (Rebecca Hall), who has just moved into the neighborhood and is waiting on her husband to join her, and Nick's next door neighbor (The always perfect Stephen Root), who possesses a few secrets of his own.
There's nothing particularly brilliant about Everything Must Go, yet the film is so consistently good that it's hard not to root for it to be the film that finally convinces America to allow Ferrell out of the over-the-top comedy corner into which he's been painted for years. There's no question that Ferrell is funny, especially having just been announced as the 2011 recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, yet bubbling underneath all that manic lunacy it's almost impossible to not believe that there's so much more that Ferrell has to offer American cinema.
While she's in the film only briefly, Laura Dern is essential as Delilah, a former classmate whose affectionate and affirming yearbook signing have sent him into retrospection and an awkwardly painful yet appealing encounter with his long lost high school friend. Rush very nearly goes too far with the script, burdening Nick with the weight of a thinly veiled rape accusation while on a business trip that is fortunately resolved in a way that makes sense without completely lifting the burden.
Ferrell truly excels here, projecting both the distraught, self-absorbed hopelessness that makes this entire scenario believable yet always remaining just likable enough that we're willing to go along with his story through its peaks and valleys. Relative newcomer Wallace shows promise as a young actor, while Rebecca Hall again proves herself to be the go-to actress for indie projects with a performance that adds layers upon layers to a fairly straightforward role.
While the film isn't flawless, Everything Must Go is consistently entertaining and often quite moving despite a formula that has been played out on the big screen numerous times before. Surprisingly, Everything Must Go is largely devoid of the typical greeting card Hollywood ending yet resolves in a way that feels faithful to the story and the characters with whom we've just spent nearly two hours.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic