Film Review: “Everything Must Go”

by Jason LeRoy on May 13, 2011


starring: Will Ferrell, Rebecca Hall, Laura Dern, Michael Peña, Stephen Root, Glenn Howerton, Christopher Jordan Wallace

written by: Dan Rush (screenplay), Raymond Carver (short story)

directed by: Dan Rush

MPAA: Rated R for language and some sexual content.

In Everything Must Go, Will Ferrell stars as Nick Halsey, the middle-aged regional VP of an unnamed corporation. We meet Nick on a very bad day. First, he is fired from his job by his douchey younger supervisor, Gary (Glenn Howerton, a.k.a. Dennis on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia). Then he slumps home to discover that his wife has left him, throwing all his stuff out onto the lawn and changing the locks before skipping town. Nick has brought this on himself. He is a severe alcoholic, and his drinking is to blame for both his job loss and the failure of his marriage.

Nick finds himself screwed even further within just a few hours. In rapid succession, his former employer repossesses his corporate car, leaving him without transportation. Then he discovers his wife froze his assets, leaving him without money. Then he breaks his phone in frustration, depriving himself of any means of communication. And so, stunned by the total collapse of every pillar in his life and unsure what to do next (other than drink), Nick sets up camp in his front lawn, wallowing in the wreckage of his life for all to see. In case you haven’t inferred it yet, this isn’t a comedy.

The neighbors start calling the police to complain about Nick sleeping on his lawn, so his AA friend, a cop named Frank (Michael Peña), tells him there’s a loophole that will allow him to legally remain on his lawn with his belongings for five days: he has to create the illusion that he’s having a yard sale. So, begrudgingly at first, Nick starts sorting through his things and deciding what he’d like to sell. He is assisted in this task by Kenny (Christopher Jordan Wallace, son of Faith Evans and Biggie Smalls!), a sweet-natured neighborhood boy who agrees to help Nick in exchange for baseball lessons. Nick also forms an unlikely (and uncomfortable) friendship with Samantha (Rebecca Hall), a pregnant woman who has moved in across the street.

Everything Must Go is based on a short story by Raymond Carver, whose stories were famously canonized in Robert Altman’s towering 1993 mosaic, Short Cuts. That movie worked so well partially because it expertly combined a dozen separate stories into one giant overlapping epic. Everything Must Go is based on just one short story, and as such, feels a bit strained as a feature-length film. Once I realized I was about to watch an entire movie of Will Ferrell sitting on his lawn, I braced myself for the worst.

Despite its optimistic score and uplifting tone, this is a very bleak film. But the results are surprisingly powerful and undeniably sobering. Like Nick, we are forced to slow down and enter a state of rueful contemplation and self-examination. And Ferrell gives his strongest dramatic performance yet, boldly exploring the depths of Nick’s dysfunction and self-loathing. By forcing the audience to sit with Nick in the first agonizing days of getting sober, Everything Must Go is one of the most effective films about the journey to sobriety I’ve seen. But if you find yourself desperate for something to laugh at in this minimalist drama, just imagine it’s all a prologue for Ferrell’s mysterious new boss on The Office, Deangelo Vickers. It works better than it should.

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