Everything Must Go (Review)

(5/12/11; Drama)
Will Ferrell, Rebecca Hall, Laura Dern, Christopher Wallace, Jr., Stephen Root, Glenn Howerton, Michael Peña
SCR: Dan Rush; based on the short story Why You Don’t Dance by Raymond Carver
DIR: Dan Rush
MPAA: R for language and some sexual content.
1 hour 36 mins

Nick Halsey (Farrell) is fired from his job, the result of one too many drinking incidents. He goes home to find all his worldly possessions on the front lawn, and his wife gone. The locks have been changed, his bank account frozen. At least he has a fresh 12-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Farrell disappears into the role of Nick Halsey, finding acting muscles he’s never displayed before. But if there is one thing that’s a constant in the world of movies: inside every brilliant comedian is an equally brilliant dramatic actor fighting to be heard. Say what you will about Farrell’s brand of comedy: it’s broad and juvenile – and let’s face it: he appears in a lot of bad movies – but you can’t say he doesn’t commit.

Here, portraying a man so painfully insecure and devoid of an identity, he speaks like he can’t stand the sound of his own voice. It’s a remarkable performance. Based on a four-page Carver story, the bones of this tale require that Nick will find himself through the purging of his clutter, but first-time writer-director Rush has more on his mind. Nick’s friend Frank (Peña) is not just his AA sponsor, but also a cop who informs him of a city ordinance that states it is illegal for someone to live on their lawn.

But Nick could legally hold a yard sale for five days, and that’s what he’ll do. From his beloved recliner, he observes his neighborhood through fresh eyes: his new neighbor Samantha (Hall) is a pregnant photographer waiting for her husband to move in; the kid from up the street (Wallace, the son of rapper Notorious B.I.G.) rides his bike aimlessly while his mother tends to a dying woman. The next door neighbors are sex freaks. Everyone is floating through life, and Nick’s yard sale becomes the catalyst for change.

What I loved about this movie was how un-Hollywood it was. There are no major epiphanies so much as subtle realizations. Nick’s alcoholism isn’t a handy device for when the movie needs fireworks. It’s an ever-present, ever-nagging thing that doesn’t go away. He’s never fall-down drunk, just varying degrees of pickled. Sure, he can stop drinking easily, but he always starts again. The convenience of meeting a new girl just as his wife has left him isn’t going to change the fact that Nick is still Nick, and he knows that.

There are no fireworks or obvious Oscar-grabbing moments, and nobody is particularly showy. But there is something beautiful and non-pretentious about the way the movie breathes. Sure, you can accuse it of being too “indie” or “precious” for mainstream tastes, and that’s fine. It’s not as precise as other movies that have used the façade of suburbia to expose something darker.

Farrell will probably retreat back to making stupid comedies, but for this brief, unromantic moment, this movie holds Nick Halsey up and asks America to look at itself. At first we see a guy we expect to be entertaining. But then we realize he has lost his soul, squandered his promise and became comfortably numb. His nostalgic possessions allow him a window into someone he’s long forgotten how to be. Nick has to come to grips with the fact that he may have stumbled upon a brand new start but it’s gonna be one day at a time for the rest of his life. (Roadside Attractions)


Author: Dennis Willis

Dennis Willis is an award-winning producer, TV host, producer, director, editor (he preferred Avid until a torrid affair with Adobe Premiere, and the rest is history), author and film critic (print and radio). Dennis produced and hosted the TV programs Reel Life, FilmTrip, Soundwaves (1983-2008) and produces the annual Soundwaves Xmas program. He is currently the film critic on KGO Radio in San Francisco, and a member of both the San Francisco Film Critics Circle and the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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