Ferrell More Thoughtful in Everything Must Go
- Christian Hamaker Contributing Film and Culture Writer
- 2011 16 May
DVD Release Date: September 6, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: May 13, 2011 (limited)
Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Adaptation
Run Time: 96 min.
Director: Dan Rush
Actors: Will Ferrell, Rebecca Hall, Christopher Jordan Wallace, Michael Pena, Laura Dern, Stephen Root, Glenn Howerton
In the opening moments of Everything Must Go, Nick Halsey, a salesman played by Will Ferrell (Megamind), lays out his rules for business success. Rule #1: Know Your Products. Rule #2: Know Your Customers. Rule #3: Go the Extra Yard.
Those are good yardsticks for evaluating the merits of Everything Must Go, adapted from Raymond Carver’s short story “Why Don’t You Dance?,” by first-time writer/director Dan Rush. At 96 minutes, the film is brief but unhurried, and interesting throughout. Rush knows his product; Carver’s story runs less than seven pages in the collection Where I’m Calling From, and that’s not enough of a plot for today’s ticket-buying customers. So, Rush went the extra yard, expanding the story in ways that are sometimes at odds with the bitter qualities of Carver’s story. Nevertheless, his efforts succeed more often than they fail.
Life is about to deal Nick a hard blow—one largely of his own making. Past indiscretions are about to catch up with him. He shows up to work one day to find that past indiscretions have caught up to him. His boss (Glenn Howerton, Crank: High Voltage) confronts Nick with allegations of alcohol-fueled misbehavior during an earlier business trip, and then terminates him. Nick receives a token for his years of service—a Swiss army knife that Nick promptly sticks into the tire of his boss’ car. He then heads to the convenience store and buys as much beer as he can carry to his car.
Over the next few days, he polishes off the beer can by can, runs out of money, and finally stoops to asking a clerk to allow him to take a six-pack of beer on credit. Beer is all Nick has left. His wife (whom we never see) has changed the locks, put a hold on their bank accounts, discontinued Nick’s credit cards and disappeared. All that remains are Nick’s belongings, spread across the front lawn of their home. So Nick, unsure of his next move, plops down in a recliner and settles in among his life’s few remaining possessions.
The lawn is the site of most of the film’s action. Nick remains in his recliner as day turns to night and the sun starts to rise, awakened by the sprinklers timed to water his lawn each morning. He calls his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, Frank (Michael Pena, The Lincoln Lawyer), a police officer who tells Nick to get himself together and find somewhere else go within three days. Otherwise, he’ll be hauled off to jail.
Maybe jail would be the best place for Nick. He has no roof over his head, he has a dwindling supply of cash and he appears to have no acquaintances other than Frank. He can’t leave his yard for fear his things will disappear. That’s where Kenny (Christopher Jordan Wallace) comes in. He’s a lonely young boy from the neighborhood to whom Frank extends an entrepreneurial opportunity. He hires Kenny to watch his stuff, and then to assist him in selling off his possessions through a yard sale.
Nick’s efforts to establish some adult companionship are less successful. He strikes up an uneasy friendship with a new neighbor (Rebecca Hall, The Town) and, searching for some connection to a more stable time in his life, shows up unannounced on the doorstep of an old high-school classmate (Laura Dern, Little Fockers).
It’s an uncomfortable scene, but it’s understandable. Nick is bottoming out. He needs a lifeline. And Ferrell makes us feel Nick’s desperation. In Everything Must Go, the comic actor takes a large step on the well-worn career-path transition from riotous comedies to heavier material—a route successfully navigated by Tom Hanks, Jim Carrey and Bill Murray. In Nick, Ferrell has brought to life a misguided Everyman, someone who makes mistakes, then makes things worse instead of taking the necessary steps that would make things better. He has no spiritual life, no job and is at risk of alienating his few remaining friends.
Carver may have been content to leave his character right there, but writer/director Rush provides some hope for Nick. We see the beginnings of renewal in Nick’s life: a communal gathering at his yard sale, a hug, a few small gestures of kindness. He’s not looking for salvation from above, but he also realizes it won’t be found at the bottom of a beer can. Everything must go—including old, destructive attitudes and behaviors. Only then can Nick make a new start.
- Language/Profanity: God’s name taken in vain; “f” word used several times; crude reference to male sex organs; “s-it”; “a-s”; Nick and Kenny trade “your momma” jokes; a middle finger extended.
- Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: Nick claims a previous history of drinking-related problems is under control, but he is fired for an alcohol-related offense; he buys beer multiple times and drinks it throughout the movie, but toward the story’s conclusion is shown walking past opportunities to purchase or consume alcohol; Nick says his father was a drunk; Nick offers Kenny part-time employment including cigarette breaks, but Kenny tells Nick he doesn’t smoke; Delilah remembers a drunken high school party.
- Sex/Nudity:Kenny finds a stash of Playboy magazines among Nick’s belongings; Nick sees a neighbor couple engaged in kinky sex; a couple scenes of urination; Nick gives the Playboys to a neighbor.
- Violence/Crime:Nick uses a knife to pierce his boss’ tire; teens steal stuff off Nick’s lawn; Nick encourages Kenny to fight back against kids who make fun of him; Delilah remembers Nick punching a boy at a high-school party; Nick throws a baseball through a window.
- Religion/Morals: Kenny tells Nick he lied to him; a husband and wife leave their respective spouses, and one requests a divorce; an affair is discovered.
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