You know, when Will Ferrell isn’t shouting obscenities and spouting off dick joke after dick joke, he’s actually very talented and relatable. Everything Must Go is a dramedy about misfortunes, and how it sometimes takes a stern kick in the ass to get us to appreciate what’s really important. It’s smart, cynical, melancholic, but most importantly it makes you feel sorry for the protagonist without asking for your pity.
The film is based on a short story by Raymond Carver called “Why Don’t You Dance?” Having not read the story, I can’t attest as to whether or not the film does it justice. But I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed Everything Must Go from start to finish. Will Ferrell gives the best performance of his career thus far, playing an alcoholic husband who loses his job and is left by his wife in the same day. He comes home from work to find all of his earthly possessions dumped on the front lawn and a note from his wife on the front door. She changed the locks, froze his accounts, and his company car gets taken back. So essentially, he’s up a creek with a shitty paddle (that’s how the expression goes, right?). His A.A. sponsor, who happens to be a detective, finds a loophole in the law wherein he can remain on the lawn as long as he continues to do so under the guise of a yard sale, which can legally continue for five days before the police can shut it down. So Nick Halsey has five days to sell his stuff and straighten out his life.
What really makes the film special is the interactions between characters. Christopher Jordan Wallace (the infamous son of Notorious B.I.G. and Faith Evans) is perfectly cast as the neighborhood kid down the street. His interplay with Ferrell’s character ranges from awkward to touching, and while the two may seem like an unlikely duo, their relationship anchors the heart of the film. Rebecca Hall plays the pregnant neighbor who just moved in across the street. One of the best scenes in the film involves the two of them opening up next to the koi pond in Nick’s backyard. Most of the dialogue in the film feels organic, but the lines do sometimes enter melodrama territory, although very rarely. The detective character, played by Michael Peña, is the only one that brings down the film. His acting is stiff and monotonous, which makes his scenes with Nick a bit of a pain to watch. The rest of the supporting cast however is solid, including a few familiar faces you might recognize.
While the film deals mostly with dramatic themes, there are more than a few solid laughs. Halsey is awoken every morning by the sprinklers blasting him in the face, and rather than turning off the water, he simply throws jackets and lamp shades over the sprockets. His conversations with the store clerk at the mini-mart where he buys copious amounts of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer are consistently hilarious. The script is multi-layered and intelligent, knowing when to break up the drama with a joke. Ferrell’s idiosyncrasies lend perfectly to the role. He’s goofy without being overbearing, and even though our heart aches for his situation, the film doesn’t try to make us feel sorry for him. The role convinced me that Will Ferrell has a bright future as a Bill Murray-esque character actor once he’s too old for the dick humor.
Everything Must Go is a pleasant low-key surprise. Going into it I wasn’t sure what I would think, but the film satisfies on both a comedic and dramatic level. It isn’t without flaws, but the movie is an intimate portrait of self-destruction with a glimmer of hope. If anything, just watch the film to see Will Ferrell play a grown-up and do it well.
3.5/5 Cases of PBR