Everything Must Go
2011, R, 96 min. Directed by Dan Rush. Starring Will Ferrell, Rebecca Hall, Christopher Jordan Wallace, Laura Dern, Michael Peña, Stephen Root.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 13, 2011
Recall, if you will, Adam Sandler's impressive dramatic turn in Punch-Drunk Love. Like that film, Everything Must Go is a drama starring a comic who is an alumnus of Saturday Night Live in a role that's less funny than it is melancholic – pathetic, even. There's an SNL-specific sub-subgenre working itself out here: the dramatic farce. Bill Murray did it first back in 1984 with an adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge and again with Lost in Translation. All three comics carry about them a certain air of the man-child, but so far only Murray has mastered the man and relegated the child to a lesser aspect of his persona. Everything Must Go, which is loosely adapted from the Raymond Carver story "Why Don't You Dance?" is a portrait of a man in collapse. Middle-aged and sporting the sort of demi-paunch that will likely overwhelm him someday, salesman Nick Halsey (Ferrell) has just been fired for alcoholic shenanigans on the job. Returning to his generic suburban American home, he discovers he's also been cast out of his castle by his wife. She's changed the locks on the doors and piled his belongings in the yard like so many cluttered, battered memories. She's also canceled their co-owned credit cards and pretty much set him adrift with nowhere, literally, to go. So he pulls up his La-Z-Boy, cracks a perpetual 12-pack, and drops out of normal life entirely, living, sort of, on his front lawn. Ferrell's work is impressive; there are comic moments scattered throughout the film, but he downplays them until they become cringe moments. (A grown man urinating in a koi pond should, by the immutable laws of the modern Hollywood comedy, be a "laff riot," but here it's just another sign of alcoholic depression.) The title of the film comes from the lawn sale Nick initiates with the help of Kenny, a chubby neighborhood kid (Biggie Smalls’ son, Christopher Jordan Wallace, who very nearly steals every scene he's in), and some prompting from his cop friend and former Alcoholics Anonymous buddy (Peña). Two women enter Nick's new anti-life: a new neighbor pregnant and awaiting the arrival of an absent significant other (Hall) and an old high school classmate played unerringly by Dern. Everything Must Go isn't a comedy, but it's not entirely a tragedy, either, and it straddles this razor's edge with a deeply nuanced aplomb. There's redemption to be had here, somewhere, possibly under the chaise lounge over by the tree, but Nick's got to pull his head out of the Keystone Light before he can find the key or the light. (See related interviews with Will Ferrell and Everything Must Go editor Sandra Adair in "Comedy of Errors," and "The Cutup.")