Everything Must Go, 2010.
Directed by Dan Rush.
Starring Will Ferrell, Rebecca Hall, Michael Peña, Laura Dern, Christopher Jordan Wallace, Rosalie Michaels, Glenn Howerton and Stephen Root.
After losing his job and his wife, an alcoholic holds a yard sale in an attempt to start over and meets a new neighbour who may be the key to his return to form.
This film wasn’t supposed to be surprising. We all knew Will Ferrell was capable of this. Come on. Stranger than Fiction was only five years ago, we can’t have forgotten the incredible pathos he brought to the role of Harold Crick. The man aced that film without so much as an improv-session or a poop joke, and we respected him that much more for broadening his cinematic horizons.
Now Everything Must Go demands even more drama. We won’t call Will Ferrell’s character here a ‘serious’ role, because we’re not the Oscar nomination board and we don’t automatically disqualify comedy films from being worthwhile simply for making us laugh uncontrollably and maybe snorting beverages out of our nostrils accidentally. It could happen to anyone. In fact, let’s leave off the name-calling of roles altogether until we work out what this is.
Nick Halsey (Ferrell) is an alcoholic. He’s been dry these last six months, but he relapsed at a work party and now he’s paying for it. His boss fires him. His wife leaves him. We’re never sure of the exact dynamic between husband and wife (she never makes an appearance), but it must have been pretty rough – he comes home to find she’s changed the locks and thrown out every single possession of his onto the lawn. Add a frozen bank account and a cancelled phone contract and you have one supremely shitty day.
His first plan of action is to call his wife. She doesn’t answer, and he burbles some desperate promises into her answering machine. One 12-pack of Pabst later, he’s sunk into his comfy chair out on the lawn, surrounded by his mess of clothes and furniture and baseball memorabilia. Robbed of the context of a beautiful house, it’s all just…stuff. He struggles to justify it to neighbours and passers-by, who think he’s just holding an extended yard sale.
Writer/director Dan Rush traps us in Nick’s little bubble; we live with him from day to day, watching him put away can after can of beer. Nick is stuck on this lawn. He can’t wander off into the world and have mad adventures like the flamboyant alcoholics of Arthur or Withnail & I. His world is his front lawn, where he is forced to literally re-evaluate everything in his life. This seems too hard, so he hires local boy Kenny to evaluate it for him instead, at an enticing minimum wage salary.
It’s a wry, bittersweet experience, to say the least. Without trying too hard to be eccentric and quirky, Rush finds his own distinctive slant on the familiar midlife crisis story. It’s a relatively straightforward plot, so with no barmy antics or slapstick to distract us, the charm and impact of Everything Must Go relies very much on its impressive cast.
Will Ferrell reins in his wilder side to give us a delightfully understated portrayal of Nick Halsey as an simple, awkward man, capable of great generosity and terrible “yo momma” jokes. Rebecca Hall’s Samantha is fascinating, shy and forthright at the same time, trying to work out where she stands with the drunk who sits opposite her house. Christopher Jordan Wallace (Kenny) is the real acting revelation here, showing more versatility and maturity at fourteen than most A-listers manage in their mid-thirties.
Kenny is the catalyst for a change in Nick, putting a trust in his friend that goes beyond child-like naïvety. This trust is more than his wife or his AA sponsor ever gave him, and it catches him completely by surprise. Watching Nick find out about himself from his friends is one of the unexpected joys of Everything Must Go; Laura Dern features in a particularly touching scene, as an old high school friend reminding Nick of the instinctive heroism that made sure she never forgot him.
Playing out to The Band’s “I Shall Be Released” was always going make this writer a fan of Everything Must Go, but this is a film that gets its hooks into you long before then. Rush is never glib or flippant on that core issue of alcoholism, but at the same time he never lets the absurdity of Nick’s situation pass him by. This film walks that fine line between drama and comedy without trying to mush the two up into one horrific concept like ‘dramedy’. Rent it, buy it, take a look at this film somehow. You might laugh, you might cry, you might say “wait a minute, wasn’t she that archeologist in Jurassic Park?” And the answer would be yes. Yes she was. But now she is that high school friend, so let’s see if Will Ferrell can resist a dinosaur impression.
Simon Moore is a budding screenwriter, passionate about films both current and classic. He has a strong comedy leaning with an inexplicable affection for 80s montages and movies that you can’t quite work out on the first viewing.