Will Ferrell stars as Nick Halsey, an advertising executive who's having a really bad day. Within the first five minutes, he's lost his job of 15 years, sabotaged his childish attempt at payback, and ticked off a thug at the local convenience store during a beer run.
Nick's problems are only just beginning. When he gets home, he finds that his wife has left him, changing the locks on the doors and throwing all of his belongings out on the front lawn: books, albums, clothes, dresser, exercise equipment, a lazy boy chair, a foosball table, a kayak … the stuff that makes up a life. With his bank account frozen and his cell phone service cancelled, Nick is stuck—in more ways than one, as it turns out. He can't break into his house without setting off the alarm system, so what can he do? Why, throw a yard sale, of course!
If it sounds like comedy as usual for Will Ferrell, think again. There are a number of chuckle-worthy moments in the first hour—including the bizarre first sale Nick makes. But this is more of a drama and an opportunity for Ferrell to show quality, understated acting outside of his usual screaming and insanity. You might say Everything Must Go is for Ferrell what Punch Drunk Love was for Adam Sandler, except it's not as good.
The movie is based on Raymond Carver's very short story "Why Don't You Dance?"—adapting it into a 90-minute film must have been like adapting a Dr. Seuss book. But first-time writer/director Dan Rush doesn't recreate and expand on Carver's story as much as borrow the premise of a drunken man recreating his once happy home life on the front lawn via a yard sale.
Carver's short story works as a poetic portrait, its brevity creating a tragic image for readers to dissect and ponder. Rush's film, however, transforms the premise into another routine indie drama-comedy about a middle-aged man in need of drastic life changes.
Part of the frustration stems from the "whys" behind this story. Why does Nick lose his job, his wife, and access to his home? Alcoholism, mostly, which may be oversimplifying amidst a lot of nuanced soul searching, but that's the crux of it. Why does Nick have a yard sale? Not to earn money for survival or any specific goal in mind, but because his friend and AA sponsor Frank (Michael Pena) tells him it's the only way to buy time for camping out on the lawn—presumably to buy time to figure out what to do with himself. But then why doesn't Nick simply move everything to the fenced-in backyard with the pool, where he spends some of his time? The film has no answer to that logic.
Everything Must Go functions more as a character study, unfolding the details of Nick's life as the story progresses. The film succeeds when it focuses on the honest human touches and observational humor, both in Nick's character and his relations with others. He reaches out to Samantha (Rebecca Hall), his pregnant new neighbor across the street, and ultimately confesses his shortcomings to her in the absence of another adult who will listen. Though initially skeptical of 13-year-old Kenny (newcomer Christopher Jordan Wallace), circling the street on his bicycle like a shark, he quickly forges a "business relationship" with the lonely teen that soon leads to friendship. And in one of the film's most heartfelt scenes, Nick looks up a high school crush (Laura Dern), not for sexual gratification, but for emotional validation—and perhaps confirmation that he needs to clean up his life.
Unfortunately, too much of Everything Must Go plays out like so many other movies of this kind. The scenes are filmed realistically, but simply. The conversations are honest, but occasionally a little rude. It's entertaining at times and occasionally insightful, but the pacing is slow and there's little payoff.
There are quirky moments that are interesting to watch—like Nick projecting home movies from his childhood against the front of the garage—but the significance is subtle. In another scene, Kenny asks Nick about a baseball and Nick explains that it's autographed by all the members of the 1978 Champion Yankees. Kenny's indifference is cute and suggests a theme of clinging to pointless items, but the film never quite develops it from there.
So what's the takeaway from Everything Must Go? That Nick needs to sober up and change his life? That seems a little too pat and pedestrian. Contrary to what you'd think, it's not really about dropping the weight of materialism from our lives. Some will probably tell you it's about Nick's decision to man up and put away childish things. Or that we need to recognize the bad choices in our life and learn to move past them. It's a hodgepodge of all these themes.
Bringing clarity to the film in a poignant way is the final sentence, which comes from a fortune cookie. It's nice, but what I'll likely remember most is Ferrell lounging in his Lazy Boy drinking beer after beer after beer—Pabst Blue Ribbon must have paid a fortune in product placement. There are meaningful moments, for sure, but like the character at the heart of this film, Everything Must Go demonstrates wasted potential longing for something better.Discussion starters
- Why does Nick's wife leave him? Is it alcoholism or is there something deeper at work with his attitude? What changes does he need to make to move forward?
- Why do you think Nick poured out his heart and confessed his past indiscretions to his neighbor Samantha? Was it simply because she was there or did he recognize some sort of kindred spirit?
- Why does Nick look up his high school crush Delilah? Is there significance to her telling him, "The good without the bad ain't no good at all"? What do you think Nick learns from that meeting?
- What do you think is next for Nick after the end of the film? What do you make of the last sentence in the film? How is it hopeful for Nick, as well as any of us who feel we cannot change for the better?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Everything Must Go is rated R for language and some sexual content. Just about every character utters profanity at some point, though it's not as pervasive as some films. The sexual content involves some crude humor, the Playboy magazines Nick keeps in his dresser drawer (though nothing is shown), and a scene where Nick spies his neighbors involved in some weird fetish-sex in their home. Nick is also seen urinating from behind a couple times—blame it on the beer that he guzzles in almost every scene.
Photos © Roadside Attractions
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