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Will Ferrell does a serious turn in Everything Must Go with mixed results. Playing an alcoholic at a crucial crossroad in his life, he uses his middle-age slacker persona well to convey a guy lost in his own immaturity and low self-esteem. And he nicely finds humor in an otherwise pathetic situation. But the performance is too one-note. Using an acting muscle hitherto ignored, Ferrell isn’t able to track the ups-and-downs in the story’s dramatic beats. Instead he falls back on physical humor and facial expressions that don’t quite get to the bottom of what ails his character.
The film, written and directed by commercials director Dan Rush from a Raymond Carver short story, is likewise a mixed blessing. It doesn’t try to shake off its literary roots. Rush intends a fable-like quality to his tale about a guy literally forced to live several days on his suburban front lawn. Yet the protagonist is such a sad sack an audience has to do much too much work to like this guy at all. You don’t even get the impression that if he stopped drinking, he would necessarily be a better person.
The key thing in selling Everything Must Go to audiences is to prepare them for a different Will Ferrell. This downbeat tale will sorely disappoint many of his usual fans. Meanwhile, the marketing must tip off others about this unusual and often intriguing foray into otherwise familiar territory.
The film actually starts out like a somewhat restrained Will Farrell comedy. His Nick Porter sees his world collapse in a single day in an improbable yet comic manner. Fired from his salesman job, he returns home to find his wife has left him but not before dumping his possessions on their front lawn and changing the house locks. Then his car gets repossessed.
Since he has enough beers in the fridge now on the lawn, Nick decides to camp out for a few days.
This eventually turns into a yard sale, which figuratively means the man is unloading his past. On the lawn are the records owned by his deejay father, also a drunk; a projector, which allows him to revisit home movies; trophies from playing school sports; and a yearbook that reminds him of an old classmate. He even looks her up.
This woman (a fine cameo by Laura Dern) is the first sign of a possible future as well as a reminder that once upon a time he had a good heart. There is also a new neighbor (Rebecca Hall) across the street and a troubled youngster (Christopher Jordan Wallace) from down the block with whom he can discuss his problems — and eventually theirs. And his AA sponsor, a police detective (Michael Pena), drops by with gentle advice.
These events don’t quite work on a realistic level. It’s highly doubtful a wife could cut a husband off from his bank account, credit cards and even cell phone. Why would she even want to? But Rush means to strip from his character all the baggage of his life at least for a few days. The rest he can sell. Everything must go.
Along the way, you do learn more about Nick, his drinking, work and marriage. And his plight has its impact on those neighbors. But there is something a little pre-ordained about all this, a bit, well, scripted. You see the strategies — the woman across the street going through similar woes only at an earlier age, and a kid with his lack of self-confidence picking up a few pointers from the pro salesman.
You could even read into the scenario a critique of suburban America, where troubled lives behind placid-looking and essentially false exteriors get dumped onto a neatly manicured lawn for all to see.
The film just doesn’t mine enough humor or drama from this situation. Meanwhile most of the developments are wholly predictable.
The production, much of it contained on a single street in Phoenix, Arizona, is all-around solid especially Michael Barrett‘s cinematography, which makes certain you never get bored looking at that same cluttered lawn.
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival
Production companies: Temple Hill Productions
Cast: Will Ferrell, Rebecca Hall, Michael Pena, Christopher Jordan Wallace, Glenn Howerton, Stephen Root, Laura Dern
Director/screenwriter: Dan Rush
Based on a short story by: Raymond Carver
Producers: Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey
Executive producers: Scott Lumpkin, Celine Rattray, Martin Bowen, Bill Hallman, Marc Erlbaum, J. Andrew Greenblatt
Director of photography: Michael Barrett
Production designer: Kara Lindstrom
Music: David Thorn
Costume designer: Mark Bridges
Editor: Sandra Adair
Sales: IM Global
No rating, 96 minutes
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