“Everything Must Go” is a story with the simple premise both absurd and sad. He does not exactly hit the bottom, but his life, which has been stuck with lots of things while going nowhere, hits the spot near the bottom recently, and it looks like the worst day of his life. He seems to have no idea about what to do next while surrounded by the objects representing his life on his front lawn; the first thing to do is buying cans of beer and drinking it as the time goes by.
Nick Halsey(Will Ferrell) is an alcoholic who has caused lots of troubles in his life and his company. Except his alcoholism, he is a good employee to his company(he is a regional Vice president), so he has been tolerated for a long time, but his latest relapse causes a big trouble in the company. He is fired now with a small gift from his bosses as the sign of gratitude to his service, and that makes a good excuse for his another relapse, and that leads to another stupid act fueled by alcohol.
When he arrives at his suburban home, there is another bad news waiting for him; he finds himself evicted from his house along with his belongings by his wife who wants divorce(She never appears in the movie, by the way). Before leaving the house, she changes the locks, so he cannot enter his house even though he is a legal owner. His bank account is frozen, and his cellular phone service is also stopped. He has nowhere to go, so he chooses to stay on the front lawn strewn with his belongings; he sleeps on his sofa and then wakes up in the morning when the sprinkler is activated on time. And he drinks again.
At least, the situation is not entirely dire to him. Thanks to his AA sponsor Frank(Michael Peña), who is a local cop, Nick is allowed to live on his front lawn for a while on the condition that he is having a ‘yard sale’. A young boy named Kevin(Christopher Jordan Wallace) hangs around him because he has nothing else to do while his mother is taking care of a patient living nearby. A young pregnant woman named Samantha(Rebecca Hall) has recently moved to the house across the street, and she and Nick spend their time together as the lonely people alone in their neighbourhood.
The movie is inspired by Raymond Carver’s short story “Why Don’t You Dance?”. The director/screenplay writer Dan Rush expands the basic idea of that short story for his first film, and, while this is not always successful because it results in diluting the power inside the concise and poetic style of Carver’s short story, the outcome is a nice intimate character drama with low-key humor. The pace is slow, but it resembles the rhythm of daily life, and its warm mood slowly comes out from the characters and their sunny environment in spite of the gloomy side of the story.
Although he has mainly been known to the audiences as a popular comedy actor, Will Ferrell has successfully shown us the serious side of his talent from time to time through several notable films including “Winter Passing”(2005) and “Stranger than Fiction”(2006). In “Winter Passing”, he was painfully shy and awkward as an idiosyncratic man living with Ed Harris’ writer character. In “Stranger than Fiction”, he showed us that he could play an ordinary man facing a preposterous circumstance which is certainly weirder than fiction.
While his usual boisterous side is dialed down to the lowest level, Ferrell gives a fine performance as a flawed hero facing a dead end in his life. Nick is a nice guy, but his problem with alcohol keeps placing him in the conflicts or clashes with others around him. He knows he must do something to get out of his trouble, but alcohol comes first in the mind of an alcoholic, and he is still stuck in his sofa while watching the time pass in front of his house with a beer can in his hand.
But he is slowly moved to the path to a new start through the small interactions with the people who come into his messy situation, and Ferrell is supported well by the good supporting cast who gives us the characters far from the clichés expected from such a story like this. Michael Peña is a sympathetic sponsor who will not get the AA sponsor of the year award, and Rebecca Hall brings warmth to her conversation scenes with Ferrell. Samantha lives alone in her house while her husband is absent due to his work, and I think Nick probably see his wife’s past from Samantha. What he says to Samantha while he is suffering from the withdrawal syndromes during one terrible night is harsh, but, though he apologizes to her later, she admits that he told her an inconvenient truth about her life – and then she does what should be done for her life.
Christopher Jordan Wallace is also good as the kid somehow walking into Nick’s stalled life by accident. Kevin is not your typical cute chubby kid; Wallace’s performance is quiet and thoughtful, and he and Ferrell make the growing friendship/partnership between them both subtle and convincing. Kevin gets interested in salesmanship, and Nick gradually learns that he is not as useless as he thought while giving several useful lessons to Kevin. Although she appears in only one scene, Laura Dern is excellent as an old high school friend of Nick. Rummaging around his belongings, Nick finds his high school graduation album, and he suddenly decides to visit a girl he liked at that time, but he only learns that the life is a one-way road. Ferrell and Dern imply lots of unsaid things below their seemingly cordial conversation; he behaves like normal but she senses there is something he wishes to say but cannot say.
“Everything Must Go” is not the best film based on Raymond Carver’s work(that honor still belongs to Robert Altman‘s “Short Cuts”(1993), which was a powerfully humane tapestry consisting of Carver’s ten works), but it is a good movie which goes deep inside Will Ferrell’s talent. He is entirely believable as a sad, depressed man struggling with his problems, and the movie works mainly thanks to his surprisingly restrained performance. I think we will able to see more from his serious side in the future while enjoying his comedy films.