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Everything Must Go

May 22, 2011
Everything Must Go

Will Ferrell is mostly known for his career on Saturday Night Live, and for his series of zany comedy movies since then, which basically consist of variations on the same character. With Everything Must Go, he has decided to try a serious, dramatic role for a change. It’s not an impossible feat — consider Adam Sandler in Reign Over Me as an example — but it’s a risky proposition to say the least. Still, he isn’t all that bad.

Nick Halsey (Ferrell) is a recovering alcoholic who has had a few slip-ups. The most recent was on a business trip to Denver, which his company is not happy about. Despite consistent sales numbers, they decide to fire him. Arriving at home — after stopping off to buy a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon — he finds his wife gone, his house’s locks changed, and all of his worldly possessions tossed out onto the lawn. Adding insult to injury, his wife has put a hold on their joint bank account, which basically leaves him unable to go anywhere other than the recliner on his front lawn.

Of course, his next-door neighbor (Stephen Root) doesn’t care for the look of things and calls the police. Nick calls his AA sponsor, Detective Frank Garcia (Michael Peña) who manages to buy him a few days’ leeway by declaring his lawn a yard sale. But Nick remains inert, since he doesn’t really see any reason to save himself anyway. He enlists the help of local kid Kenny (Christopher Jordan Wallace), who he starts teaching about salesmanship as he pokes through the detritus of his own life, looking for something worthwhile. In pursuit of that, he tracks down an old high school acquaintance (Laura Dern), and seeks consolation from the young expectant mother who has just moved in across the street (Rebecca Hall).

If this description sounds sort of disjointed and aimless, that’s probably because that describes the movie itself pretty well. Ferrell is actually rather good as Nick, but the script by writer/director Dan Rush is all over the map. But then, to call the source material — Raymond Carver’s “Why Don’t You Dance?” — a short story would be rather generous. And actually it barely resembles what we see on screen. Where Carver stops far short of making his point and leaves us to fill in the gaps, Rush keeps going and going and going long after he’s made his. Not to mention that it’s not entirely clear that Rush ever did fill in Carver’s gaps to understand his original point in the first place.

It also doesn’t help that Everything Must Go comes out as The Beaver expands, which latter film completely eats this one’s lunch as far as introspective downward spirals go. On the other hand, as a proof-of-concept for Will Ferrell taking on some serious roles it does its job fairly well. Remember: Adam Sandler didn’t get to make Reign Over Me until he got Punch-Drunk Love out of the way to break the ice.

Worth It: not really. Go watch The Beaver.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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