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Everything Must Go

Ferrell Gets Serious

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

As a comic actor, Will Ferrell can do almost no wrong, at least commercially. Like most, if not all comic actors, Ferrell’s fanbase returns regularly to see him perform a variation on his boorish man-child. Audiences, however, have yet to warm to Ferrell’s attempts to expand his range into dramatic or serio-comic roles (e.g., 2006’s Stranger Than Fiction).

His latest attempt, Everything Must Go, a character-centered comedy-drama, isn’t likely to bring Ferrell’s fans to cross over. If they don’t, they’ll be missing one of the finer performances of Ferrell’s acting career and a mostly engaging, if ultimately flawed, comedy-drama.

In Everything Must Go, Nick Halsey (Ferrell), a top sales rep and VP, loses his high-paying job, his wife, and his home all on the same day. A lifelong alcoholic, Halsey’s behavior on a business trip tips the balance against him with his employers. The same incident contributes to his wife’s decision to move out of their home, change the locks, and freeze their mutual bank accounts. She also dumps Halsey’s personal possessions on their front lawn. With his company car repossessed and Halsey short on funds or friends, he’s forced to spend the first of several nights in his armchair under the stars.

Three setbacks in one day are more enough to cause the weak-willed Halsey to go on a bender, but when he wakes up the next morning, nothing’s changed (with the exception of a serious hangover). His onetime sponsor and, luckily for Halsey, a police detective, Frank Garcia (Michael Peña), uses a little-known legal loophole that allows homeowners to hold three-day yard sales on their property to give Halsey time to recover.

With time on his hands, Halsey warms to the idea of selling his possessions. First he sells the smallest, least consequential objects and, later, larger, more consequential possessions. He hires an overweight teen, Kenny Loftus (Christopher Jordan Wallace), to help.

Adapted by writer-director Dan Rush from Raymond Carver’s short story, “Why Don’t You Dance,” Everything Must Go follows a literal path for redemption for Halsey. As the title implies, Halsey has to free himself from his past and his mistakes before he can become a better man. It’s a short, concentrated arc toward personal enlightenment and redemption and, as such, unrealistic.

Adding a new neighbor, Samantha (Rebecca Hall), as an exposition magnet (Halsey has to confess his sins to someone), while, in the guise of her absent husband, mirroring his own faulty choices, Everything Must Go flows from one redemptive narrative convention to another, hitting each mark expertly, if predictably.

Unsurprisingly, Everything Must Go isn’t particularly deep or profound in its depiction of alcoholism and the effects on an alcoholic or those closest to him. It doesn’t have to be, but the film’s real failing lies in Rush’s decision to include a reductive explanation for Halsey’s alcoholism: Halsey’s father was an alcoholic too and occasionally abusive. Relying on the father-as-alcoholic explanation reduces Halsey to a one-dimensional character without agency.

Despite Everything Must Go’s flaws, Rush elicits a strong, sympathetic performance from Ferrell and the supporting cast, especially Rebecca Hall (The Town). Ferrell slips into the occasional Ferrellism, behavior wise, but given that boorish core of his persona, Halsey’s similar behavior isn’t a stretch. Rush deserves credit for pushing the material and performances front-and-center and visual style in the background, serving the story rather than vice versa. Unfortunately, his reliance on reductive character psychology weakens what could have been a strong effort both for Ferrell and himself.