We know that Will Ferrell is a funny man. He helped make cowbells an iconic moment of comedy. He's offered us the likes of 'Old School,' 'Anchorman,' and 'The Other Guys.' He's rambunctious, ridiculous, and over-the-top, and we love him for it. But when he played Harold Crick in 'Stranger Than Fiction,' we learned that the comedy could be reigned in to that right mix of humor and real-life depth. Suddenly he wasn't the impetuous comedian, but rather a living, breathing man -- even if said man's life was dictated by one woman's typewriter.
'Everything Must Go' sees Ferrell return to the world of dramedy. But this time the added quirk has been released, allowing the actor to live out one very bad week as one man's life crumbles around him. It's not a perfect comedic drama -- it's a paint-by-numbers tale of one man's struggles with addiction -- but it allows Ferrell to stretch his true talents and once again find the humor and pain in life's woe.
Ferrell plays Nick, a Pabst-drinking alcoholic who is fired from his job, and drives home to find all of his possessions strewn across the front lawn. His wife is nowhere to be found, the locks have been changed, and to add extra insult onto ever-mounting injury, his cell phone has been shut off and his accounts are frozen. Essentially, Nick is without home, money, or support, and decides to just settle down on the front lawn and dull the pain with cheap beer as he faces a seemingly endless onslaught of trouble.
Sitting amongst his possessions, Nick is literally facing his past as he wards off the unknown future. And while he feels alone, some support does arrive. His sponsor is a police detective (Michael Pena) who finds a legal loophole to let Nick keep his belongings on the lawn for five days until he can sell it all. A new neighbor across the street named Samantha (Rebecca Hall) takes kindly to Nick's predicament, offering a friendly ear while fellow neighbors only offer derision. And finally, no dysfunctional life drama is complete without the precocious kid who offers unconditional friendship. Christopher Jordan Wallace -- the son of Notorious B.I.G. and Faith Evans -- gets that job. He plays Kenny, Nick's right-hand help for a price -- he wants to learn the art of sales and how to play baseball.
The script -- which earned new filmmaker Dan Rush a spot on the Black List a few years ago -- is adapted from Raymond Carver's short story, "Why Don't You Dance?" The original piece is just a brief look at a young couple who happen upon a man living outside, which Rush then expanded to answer the questions of why he's out there, and where he'll go from there. It's not hard to guess how the plot will unfold as Nick digs through his belongings and comes to terms with how his life played out -- the records his drunk, DJ father left him, or yearbooks that reveal a warm, popular, life-ahead-of-him kid. But Rush also manages to avoid some of the more irksome cinematic cliches and offer the gray, morally ambiguous area of life.
For the most part, this works quite well. Nick is a drunk, but he's not a loathsome devil. He drinks beer after beer, and might unleash a harsh (yet honest) word or two, but he isn't horribly belligerent or dangerous. He's the functional drunk who maintained success at work, but let his life slowly unwind out of control. His problem is his passive indifference, which becomes quite clear as Nick tries to drink his way out of pain. By the end of the film, however, it's unclear what Rush is trying to say with the twists that lead to the feature's climax and resolution, as ill-placed moral superiority seeps in. A world that first seems straightforward becomes muddled, and though the revelations are meant to flesh out the narrative, they also add too much ambiguity to a story centered on a man being forced to take responsibility for his life.
But Ferrell is never better than in those moments when he doesn't have to out-quirk himself, or find a way to be even more flamboyant on the big screen, and Rush lets Ferrell have a field day, finding those bits of dark humor that are always present on the darkest days. Residing in that limbo between comedy and drama, mainstream tropes and indie flavor, this isn't a blockbuster film sure to bring in the masses. But it is a sweet -- and often very honest -- look at life, and another example of how criminally underused Will Ferrell's talents are.