It's no laughing matter for Ferrell
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, May 13, 2011
“Everything Must Go” is a movie about a yard sale, the way Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” is a play about a real estate auction. Both statements are true, but they tell only half the story.
Based on the short story “Why Don’t You Dance” by Raymond Carver — that late, great master of literary alienation and loneliness — “Everything Must Go” has been described, somewhat tentatively, as a “dramedy.” And it does star Will Ferrell. But despite a trailer that makes it look like a yuk-fest, the laughs are few and far between.
That’s okay. Chekhov thought “The Cherry Orchard” was a comedy, too.
You don’t get laugh-out-loud funny in Raymond Carver, whose works were previously (and most prominently) brought to the screen by Robert Altman in the 1993 film “Short Cuts.” Here, as adapted by first-time feature filmmaker Dan Rush, Carver brings us the tale of an alcoholic named Nick Halsey (Ferrell) who, in the space of 24 hours, loses his job, his wife, his house, his bank account and his bearings.
Some humor is okay — and inevitable — as when Nick uses the pocketknife with his name on it that he has been given by his company as a parting gift to puncture the tire of his boss’s car. The blade gets stuck, and the look of impotent panic on Nick’s face is classic Ferrell.
Don’t get used to it. That chuckle, which comes early in the film, is not a harbinger of things to come.
Instead, we’re treated to the spectacle of Nick, who has been locked out of his home by his wife — and whose every possession has been unceremoniously dumped on the front lawn before she left — essentially living al fresco in his old recliner, as he guzzles beer after beer after beer from a nearby cooler. There’s a certain desperate absurdity to that, along with a lot of pain. But comic it ain’t.
Surprisingly, Ferrell underplays it nicely, neither milking Nick’s misfortunes for laughs nor asking for our pity. It’s funny — and not in a ha-ha way — but there really isn’t much difference between what we see the actor doing here and what he has always done, at least in some of his more deadpan comedy roles. The shift in tone is subtle, but appropriate. It may take a while for some viewers to come around, but Ferrell pushes the semi-serious character he played in the 2006 “Stranger Than Fiction” — an IRS auditor confronted with the big issues of life, love and death — to a whole new level of straight-faced drama.
Nicest of all is the way that Ferrell and Rush render Nick’s relationships. There’s Kenny (Christopher Jordan Wallace), a lonely latch-key kid who keeps hanging around Nick’s yard. There’s Samantha (Rebecca Hall), a lonely pregnant neighbor. There’s Delilah (Laura Dern), a former high-school crush whom Nick looks up. And there’s Frank (Michael Pena), Nick’s Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, who tries to nudge him back on the wagon. In one way or another, they all represent the loneliness that comes with being human and the lost opportunities that each of us must accept and move past.
If it sounds wholly bleak, it isn’t. Remember, this is a movie about a yard sale. Over the course of the film, Nick struggles with the idea of, as he puts it, “selling all my crap” — he means that both literally and metaphorically — and getting on with his life. That sentiment, and Ferrell’s refusal to sentimentalize it, is reason enough to smile.
Contains obscenity and a brief sex scene.