Everything Must Go

Though he has dabbled in light drama, Will Ferrell has yet to try the sort of intensely serious role that many of his comic peers have taken on. “Everything Must Go” still isn’t his grab for an Oscar (and I’m in no hurry to see him make one), but it is a confident transitional step in that direction, should he decide he wants to pull a Sandler or a Carrey.

Here he plays Nick Halsey, a competent and modestly successful salesman who, at the film’s outset, is fired. The cause isn’t the poor economy or corporate downsizing — it’s Nick’s alcoholism. It has caused trouble in the past, leading to rehab and even a period of sobriety. But now, after an incident on a business trip in Denver, it has finally sunk him.

Nick’s day gets worse when he arrives home to find that his wife has moved out of the house, changed the locks, canceled his credit cards, and put all of his belongings on the lawn. Whatever happened in Denver has proved to be the last straw for her, too.

Unsurprisingly, Nick’s response to these setbacks is to acquire as much Pabst Blue Ribbon as he can with his remaining cash, and to sit on the lawn and drink. His Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, a cop named Frank Garcia (Michael Peña), stops by to check on him — and to tell him that city ordinances will only let him keep his stuff on the lawn if he’s having a yard sale, and only for five days. Nick doesn’t actually want to turn the incident into a yard sale, but he doesn’t have a lot of options.

That lack of options is a little strange, narratively speaking. Are we to understand that Nick has no one who will come to his aid? No friends, no family, no sympathetic former colleagues, no one but his neglectful AA sponsor? Nick isn’t the kind of drunk who alienates everyone — on the contrary, he’s a gregarious, entertaining fellow. He’s exactly the kind of guy you’d love to have a beer with. I don’t buy that he’s this destitute this suddenly.

Be that as it may, he’s living on his lawn now. Across the street is a pregnant woman named Samantha (Rebecca Hall) who has just moved to the neighborhood in advance of her husband being transferred for his job. She takes some pity on Nick, and so does Kenny (Christopher Jordan Wallace), a pudgy, outcast teenager from the block. As Nick gradually resigns himself to taking inventory of his belongings, he also takes inventory of his life.

This material could be the makings of an intense and sober drama about a broken man. It could also be an all-out farce about a hilarious drunken reprobate. Alcoholism goes both ways, as you know. Ferrell plays it closer to drama than you’d expect him to, but he’s also given plenty of funny moments. He conveys the seriousness of the character’s plight without wallowing in the sadness of it all.

Dan Rush, the first-time filmmaker who wrote and directed the project (adapting a short story by Raymond Carver), resists the urge to resolve Nick’s problems easily or stereotypically. His style isn’t showy, and Ferrell is likewise restrained. The result is a simple, unassuming movie that’s grounded in reality and is every bit as likable as Ferrell himself.

B+ (1 hr., 36 min.; R, a handful of F-bombs, brief strong sexuality.)

[Reprinted from Film.com.]