A film review by Craig J. Koban September 28, 2011
EVERYTHING MUST GO
2011, R, 96mins.
2011, R, 96mins.
Will Ferrell: Nick / Rebecca Hall: Samantha / Christopher Jordan Wallace: Kenny / Michael Pena: Det. Garcia / Laura Dern: Delilah
Written and directed by Dan Rush, based on Raymond Carver's short story "Why Don't You Dance?"
"They say that the dining room is the least utilized place of the home. I'd have to say it's the front lawn"
- Nick (Will Ferrell) in EVERYTHING MUST GO
EVERYTHING MUST GO has elements of comedy, but it in no way should be labeled as a feel-good entertainment. If anything, Dan Rush’s feature length directorial debut is actually kind of thanklessly daring for making his main character, Nick Halsey, an unsympathetic loser that's also a down-on-his-luck and spirally out of control alcoholic that takes great pains to ensure that both he and those around him suffer.
one of the small miracles of EVERYTHING MUST GO is that Nick is played by
Will Ferrell, a performer typically reserved to manic comedic roles where
he takes great relish in doing just about anything for a laugh.
In hindsight, it’s quite amazing just how understated and uncanny
Ferrell is at dialing into the darkly melancholic recesses of this implosively
has been one of the funniest screen actors of his generation (if you need
proof then look no further than ANCHORMAN,
TALLADEGA NIGHTS, and the more
recent THE OTHER GUYS) who
probably has no equal when it comes to using personal debasement as a
source for our rowdy and infectious merriment.
Yet, Ferrell perhaps gets no respect for being a dramatic actor of
respectable and ever-increasing range (see the criminally underrated MELINDA
AND MELINDA and STRANGER
THAN FICTION) and his work now in EVERYTHING MUST GO rounds off a
very decent triumvirate of “straight” roles for him.
It’s kind of noteworthy how so many former on-screen funnymen
have churned out late careers of serious and emotionally weighty parts:
Robin Williams, Jack Lemmon, Jim Carrey, Tom Hanks, Bill Murray, and Greg
Kinnear all immediately come to mind. Ferrell
is on the verge of joining their esteemed company.
film opens in a small Arizona town where Nick, a recovering alcoholic, is
about to have the proverbial worst day of his life.
He has a highly lucrative and extraordinarily well paying sales job
and is a leader in his profession, but despite his tenure and skill, he's
unceremoniously fired by his much younger boss.
To make matters even worse, Nick returns home – after
beginning to reacquaint himself with booze – to find that his
house has had new locks put on the doors and that all of his possessions are on the
front lawn. His wife has left
him and, as a final kick to the groin while he's down, his wife has
blocked his access to all of their joint accounts and credit cards.
Even Nick’s cell phone service quickly gets disconnected. The man is essentially left with nothing except except the
clothes on his back and what’s sitting outside in front of his house.
rock bottom, Nick gorges on a six pack of brew and sheepishly slums back
in one of his recliners that sits in his suburban front yard, which soon
becomes a visual reminder of his failures at home and on the job front.
Unfortunately, a constantly inebriated man sitting with all of his
possessions in his front yard catches the attention of most of his neighbors,
which is why his friend, AA sponsor and cop Frank (Michael Pena), shows
up to try to help Nick and get him from making a spectacle of himself.
Nick tells Frank that he told the previous officers that had confronted him
that he’s free to do what he likes on his own front lawn, which does not
seem to impress Frank very much, but he does offer him an idea to have a
yard sale. Realizing that
he’s really got nothing much better to do – and that he's getting really
low on cash – Nick opts for it, and even enlists in the aid of a local kid
named Kenny (Christopher Jordan Wallace) to get the sale up and running.
All of this catches the eye of one of Nick’s new neighbors,
Samantha (Rebecca Hall, exuding a lovely and natural grace, as always) who
begins to feel sorry for him, perhaps because she is pregnant, alone, and
sees in him a downtrodden person to help make herself feel better
about her own situation.
MUST GO does a uniformly expedient job of juggling two key character
dynamics and relationships: First, there is the bond developed between the
hapless and drunken Nick with the young Kenny and the second involves a
more complex and fragile one between Nick and Samantha.
The key similarity between Nick and Samantha is that they are both
lonely and seem to discover each other during their time of solitude.
Whereas Nick is alone mostly because of past indiscretions and
self-destructive behavior, Samantha is a much more kindly and relatable
figure in the film. She is waiting for her workaholic husband to join her in her
new home across from Nick, which leaves her internally conflicted about
her station in life and her marriage in general.
Rather prudently, the film never once puts Nick and Samantha on a
trajectory of unlikely romance, which would have been the temptation of a
much weaker screenplay. Instead,
they simply become two lost people that share in grief.
film – based on the Raymond Carver short story WHY DON’T YOU DANCE? –
is also kind of discretely moving and involving on a thematic level, not
to mention that it knows how to play up laughs by not drawing too much
attention to them while playing out the more subtle and quieter dramatic
scenes for just the right nuanced effect.
EVERYTHING MUST GO speaks the universal truth of how people,
whether they choose to accept it or not, bring about their own worst
personal downfalls. The film
is an acute study in sadness, pathetically destructive self-loathing, and
bitter despair and desolation. Yet,
the film is also about taking stock – in both emotional and literal ways
– and how we take so many things – material and social – for
granted. The yard sale for
Nick almost becomes a form of self-therapy for him: he takes inventory of
things that were once trivial and mundane that lay on his front lawn, and
his acquiescing to the notion of giving up his heirlooms is just one
initial step in many for him getting back to a healthy and content life.
film would not work if it were not for Ferrell, and what’s so refreshing
here is how his usually histrionic and manic energy is reigned in to
create a much more subdued and exemplarily
underplayed character. Ferrell
fits the role of Nick so uniformly and atypically well: he neither
oversells the role’s melancholic misery nor does he beg for audience
sympathy either. Yes, he does
get laughs, but more for how he just understates certain lines with an
almost soul-sucking detachment (“I don’t have kids…but I
have fish”). He also wisely
does not play Nick as a happy-go-lucky or funny drunk, but more or less as
a miserable and selfish one that is trapped within a vortex of his own
pessimism and despondency.
seen so many Ferrell-helmed comedies where he has cranked up the
hysterical performance volume to eleven – often with my approval – to generate
big and sustained laughs, but what ultimately makes EVERYTHING MUST GO
really tick is how well he dials everything down to the point where he
does not occupy a false moment in the film.
Ferrell is equal parts soulful, heartfelt, and disparagingly funny here to create his most authentic and well-rounded character
to date. EVERYTHING MUST GO
may easily turn off his core demographic and die-hard fans, but for the
rest of us, this is yet another step in the right direction for him
gaining broader respectability.