Film Review: Everything Must Go (dir. by Dan Rush)

Everything Must Go is Will Ferrell’s attempt to prove that he can be a serious actor and to a large extent, he succeeds.  I saw this film at the Plano Angelika and the audience, at first, seemed to be rather confused as they realized that Will Ferrell wasn’t going to be particularly funny in this film.  However, as the film progressed, his performance — if not the film itself — seemed to win the audience over.  Though, at first glance, this film would seem to have little in common with Anchorman or Tallegada Nights, it does fit in nicely as part of the Mediocre American Man trilogy.  It’s just that here, we’re supposed to feel for Ferrell’s mediocre American man as opposed to laugh at him.

In Everything Must Go, Ferrell plays a middle-aged, alcoholic who, after getting fired from his job, returns home and discovers that his wife has locked himself out of the house and has put all of his possessions out on the front lawn.  Over the next few days, Ferrell spends his time sitting out in the front yard, drinking beer, dealing with the neighbors, and eventually — with the help of a neighborhood kid (Christopher Jordan Wallace) — holding a yard sale that, as you can probably guess — serves as a metaphor for the sorry state of his life in general.  The film is based on the short story Why Don’t You Dance? by Raymond Carver and, as you can tell from the plot synopsis, it’s definitely not a film to see without your Cymbalta.

I wanted to like Everything Must Go a lot more than I actually did.  It’s a beautifully shot film that features scenes of true insight and pathos.  Unfortunately, for every scene of subtle power, there’s another scene where director Dan Rush pushes too hard to appeal to easy sentiment.  There’s a wonderfully awkward yet poignant scene in which Ferrell tracks down and talks to a woman (played by Laura Dern) who he barely knew in high school.  Ferrell and Dern have a great chemistry and the scene is difficult to watch precisely because it’s so honest and revealing.  However, to get to that scene, you have to deal with scenes of Ferrell dealing with a self-righteous neighbor (Stephen Root) or awkwardly talking to the pregnant woman (Rebecca Hall) who has just moved in across the street.  These scenes are awkward for the opposite reason — they just seem so false, forced, and predictable.

Falling somewhere in between are the scenes in which Will Ferrell befriends a lonely neighborhood boy, played by Christopher Jordan Wallace.  Wallace does a good job in the role and he and Ferrell act well opposite each other but, at the same time, it’s hard not to feel as if the Wallace is being used more as a dramatic device than an actual character.  It’s hard not to feel that this is yet another film in which the filmmakers attempt to get us to accept bad behavior on the part of a white protagonist by having him befriend the only black person in the entire movie.  

Everything Must Go is Will Ferrell’s attempt to prove that he can play a serious role and it must be said that he succeeds even as the film fails.  Essentially, he’s just playing a real world version of the same goofy, overgrown boys that he plays in his comedies but he’s smart enough as a performer to realize that and use it to his advantage.  Ferrell understands that, in real life, both Ron Burgundy and Ricky Bobby would be burned-out dinosaurs with failed marriages and no place to live.  If nothing else, Everything Must Go proves that the line between comedy and tragedy is quite thin indeed.

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