Everything Must Go ✮✮✮
Good Will Hurting
by Glenn Lovell
How to describe the faces of viewers expecting Will Ferrell in “Old School: The Post-Grad Years” or “Talladega Daze”? Beyond disappointed to how-dare-you disbelief. What happened to our favorite SNL alum, etc., etc.? As for those who never got Ferrell’s brand of smirk humor — place me among these holdouts — they were happily relieved. Who would have thought it? The guy can act.
“Everything Must Go,” expanded from a Raymond Carver story, is to Ferrell what “Punch-Drunk Love” was to Adam Sandler: a gutsy change of pace that reminds us the class clown, deep down, is a tangle of neuroses. It won’t do blockbuster business. But never mind. It opens doors for Ferrell much as “The Days of Wine and Roses” did for another era’s funnyman, Jack Lemmon.
Now the question is: Will Will pass through those doors, risk alienating his fans by embracing his dour other self?
Actually, the “Wine and Roses” comparison isn’t too much of a stretch. Just as Lemmon did in that classic Blake Edwards drama, Ferrell is playing a drunk here whose bouts with the bottle make us want to squirm and turn away. We meet his Nick Halsey on an especially bad day, in the process of being sacked by a large corporation where he has served as regional v-p. His termination appears richly deserved. It has something to do with getting drunk on the road and having non-consensual sex with a coworker.
Just as he says things can’t get worse, they do. Nick arrives home to discover his wife has changed the locks, put a stop on their bank account and, before leaving for destinations unknown, deposited his most prized possession on the front lawn, including tiki bar, workout equipment and collection of rare LPs.
In a state of total denial, Nick ignores the neighbors’ looks and the cops’ warnings, invests in a couple of six-packs, and plunks down in his favorite lounger ‒ to await his wife’s returns.
He quips, “They say the dining room is the least utilized room in the house ‒ I think it’s the front lawn.”
Things have to get better.
Of course they don’t, but a city ordinance regarding yard sales buys him five days. During this time, he befriends and hires Kenny (Christopher Jordan Wallace), a lonely, overweight latchkey kid, and commiserates with Samantha (Rebecca Hall), a new neighbor who’s pregnant and refuses to acknowledge the truth about her own situation.
“I’m no different than any of you,” Nick says, lowering the boom. “I just don’t hide in my house.”
As anyone who has read Carver or seen “Short Cuts,” Robert Altman’s brilliant adaptation of several Carver stories, knows, that in a nutshell is the author’s overriding theme. In tract-house America, we’re all to one degree or another in hiding, cowering behind drawn blinds or curtains, feigning middle-class “normality.” Isn’t this also John Cheever country? In fact, Cheever’s “The Swimmer” shares much in common with this movie: The backyard pools, manicured lawns and fleshly painted porticos were, and still are, a façade for lives of quiet desperation.
“Everything Must Go,” directed and adapted by Dan Rush, isn’t a perfect film ‒ I could have done without the twist ending and the references to a conveniently abusive father ‒ but it is a very good movie thanks to Rush’s unrushed approach and some fine underplaying by Hall, Wallace and Michael Pena as Nick’s AA sponsor. Laura Dern appears briefly as the object of a surprise class reunion. As usual, she’s chirpiness personified.
To his credit, Ferrell never once winks at the audience or breaks character. Unlike, say, Nicolas Cage in “Leaving Las Vegas,” he isn’t into stream-of-consciousness rants or suicidal pronouncements. In fact, his Nick is almost completely closed off, prisoner of a cocoon-like stupor. He’s been hitting the sauce for so long time, it’s the new normal. While not a sloppy drunk, he can be an abusive one. And Ferrell, it’s clear, doesn’t care if we care about this guy, and that in a weird way has a reverse effect. We do end up caring, invested in Nick’s future, whatever it may bring. No mean feat.
Our advice to Ferrell: When this film tanks, as it will, don’t pull a Sandler and run for cover in your signature gonzo routines. You have the makings of a first-rate character actor.
EVERYTHING MUST GO ✮✮✮ With Will Ferrell, Christopher Jordan Wallace, Rebecca Hall, Michael Pena, Laura Dern. Directed, scripted by Dan Rush from a Raymond Carver story. 96 min. Rated R (for profanity, adult content)