Will Ferrell turns in an honest and heartfelt portrayal as an alcoholic in what we glean is his latest bender in the 2010 drama “Everything Must Go.” The film opens with Ferrell, drinking out of a flask, musing on the art of the business deal in a corporate car, seconds before his character is fired from his job for alcoholism and other debaucheries, despite his stellar selling record. Whether or not this scene is a copy of, or homage to the 1995 award-winning “Leaving Las Vegas” is up for interpretation. But it’s effective in setting up the film, and introducing us to Nick Halsey (Ferrell), and the downward spiral he is on.
Much of the film is cloaked in a suspension of disbelief, as the entirety of the film (aside from its bittersweet ending) takes place in Halsey’s front yard, where his wife has thrown all his belongings on the lawn and changed the locks on him. Halsey spends days sitting in a burka lounger, drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon by the six pack, passing out each night only to be awoken by water sprinklers each morning. Along the way he gains the attention of a police detective/former AA sponsor (Michael Peña), and an inquisitive neighborhood kid named Kenny, played by Christopher Jordan Wallace.
“Everything Must Go” is a somber film, and takes pains to paint its main character’s alcoholism as a serious problem, not as a plot point to be swept under the rug. Somewhere along the way, Nick decides to sell everything he owns in a huge yard sale, at first as a way to get beer money, but later as penance to himself, his ex-wife, and perhaps to a former life he lost long ago.
The acting in the film is subdued and wonderful, especially Ferrell’s, who completely strikes films like “Old School” or “Step Brothers” from our minds during its progression. Ferrell plays a sad man, and seems to do so with ease and comfortability. We’re not talking acting on par with Nicholas Cage from the aforementioned “Leaving Las Vegas;” but that’s okay. That’s not the kind of film this is. This is a film of rebirth, not death, and as such is both depressing yet hopeful in equal measure. Ferrell handles the material easily, showing a capable and dynamic actor lurking under his comedic shell.
The rest of the cast ads to the film in pleasing ways. As Nick’s neighbor, Rebecca Hall plays a pregnant wife waiting for her husband to join her as he moves across country, and strikes up a friendship with Nick. She is one of the high points of the film, and she and Nick have what equates to two of the best scenes in the film: one, as Nick shares with her the real reason his marriage ended, and the second as Nick lashes out in anger while in the depths of withdrawal. Both are powerful in their own ways.
Aside from these two, my favorite character in the film has to be Kenny, and Christopher Jordan Wallace turns in a nice performance as a lonely kid looking for a father figure. He helps Nick with the sale of his items, learns a thing or two about the art of the sale along the way, and is just a fun person to watch. Peña does okay with what he has to work with, but is cast as the standard “tough love” character, mixed in with some drama toward the film’s conclusion that I would have liked to seen the film end without. We understand that Nick’s life is a tragedy in the making; the ending paints this for us as if we’re not smart enough to figure it out, and was kind of rather unnecessary.
“Everything Must Go” is shot well, and has that indie feel that makes it more about it’s characters’ lives, and less about plot or direction. Nick grows along the way, realizes possibly that all is not lost, and, in the film’s best sequence, violates our expectations by having him pass up the opportunity for a free drink, where it would have been easier to end the film on the depressing and the dynamic. The film, through careful plotting and smart scriptwriting, poses the idea that Nick’s life can change. And we believe him.
At the end of the day, “Everything Must Go” is a solid film. It’s not Oscar-worthy, but is pleasing, and for a film that deals with such serious subject matter, you feel better after watching it than before, which says something. Ferrell shows us he can really act, and the film’s small focus is both effective and welcome. A worthwhile film.
– by Mark Ziobro