Everything Must Go (***)

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Will Ferrell gives his best performance to date in the small dramedy Everything Must Go, and it’s clear that he’s the best thing about it.  The film overall is good, but he’s rather excellent and worth keeping in mind for awards consideration.  As a man struggling with the worst days of his life, Ferrell is pitch-perfect, disappearing into the role with aplomb.  Writer/director Dan Rush is someone to watch as well, though he ultimately seems content to just let Ferrell continually wow the audience.  Even though it chooses a strange path at times, the flick is a simple story at its core, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Nick Halsey (Ferrell) has always had a drinking problem, but he’s always been able to sober up and get with the program (literally) when anything of note has been at stake.  His latest slip-up however, is about to destroy his life.  While on a business trip in Denver, he fell off the wagon and caused some trouble for the company he’s mid-level management at.  Soon, he’s lost his job and started drinking heavily again.  He then comes home to find that his wife has left him, changed the locks, and discarded all of his worldly possessions on the front lawn.  Nick has hit rock bottom, and just decides to camp out on his lawn.  At the same time, a pregnant newlywed named Samantha (Rebecca Hall) has just moved in across the street, and they begin to bond.  When his AA sponsor, a detective named Frank Garcia (Michael Pena) informs him that he can only stay on his lawn for 5 days, and only if it’s while holding a yard sale, he employs the help of a neighborhood kid (Christopher Jordan Wallace) to get the sale going.  For Nick, moving on will entail letting go, in more ways than one.

I think Will Ferrell deserves to be remembered come Oscar time.  There’s no hint of the slapstick comedian in this performance, and it proves to me that Ferrell is likely a better dramatic actor than anything else.  He’s constantly sad, bitter, and also somewhat lovable.  It’s a lived in performance that never hits a false note.  It’s also a surprisingly accurate depiction of functioning alcoholism.  The supporting players all have their individual traits as well, but they just aren’t developed as well.  The kid who becomes Nick’s friend is the closest we get to a well rounded character, but even he is shortchanged in a few ways.  Wallace’s performance is good, just the character doesn’t get enough good moments.  The same can be said for Hall and Pena as well, though the former gets more than the latter.

There are also small roles for Stephen Root and Laura Dern as well, but while Dern’s one scene is an important one, they come off more like script necessities than legitimate characters.  The flick lives and dies on Ferrell alone.

Rush is a simple but effective filmmaker, both as a director and screenwriter.  In adapting Raymond Carver’s short story “Why Don’t You Dance?,” he’s mostly just taken inspiration from it and gone off in his own direction.  The results are good, if not great.  This is almost a calling card movie, one designed to get him more work in the future.  What elevates it is Will Ferrell, who blows you away.  Rush himself will have a future in this business, but he may be in line for a better one because of Ferrell.

Overall, Everything Must Go is a slight but endearing portrait of a man starting fresh after hitting rock bottom.  Buoyed by a nomination worthy performance by Ferrell, this good film becomes something more.  Though fans of Ferrell’s usual shtick might not be interested in this more fulfilling work, I do recommend it to everyone, so a new side of the artist can be seen.

Check it out, you’ll be glad you did.