No actor likes to be pigeon-holed or typecast. Just because you’re good at algebra doesn’t mean you can’t write a kick-ass short story. Being good at baseball doesn’t automatically make you a terrible soccer player. In the case of Will Ferrell, just because he can make people laugh doesn’t mean that can’t perform drama. While not a venture into completely unknown territory, Everything Must Go proves that Ferrell can be taken seriously and shouldn’t just be seen as the perpetual petulant man-child.
Written and directed by Dan Rush, the film centers on Nick Halsey (Ferrell), a man in the midst of the worst day of his life. A recovering alcoholic who gets fired after a relapse, he goes home to find that his wife has locked him out of the house and thrown all of his belongings on the front yard. His bank account frozen, his company car repossessed, his phone shut off and the police telling him that he can’t live outside his own house, he, with the help of a neighborhood kid (Christopher Jordan Wallace), decides that all he can do is sell everything and start over.
Though not without its fair share of laughs, Everything Must Go’s most impressive asset is Ferrell’s darker, more dramatic moments. Rather than going for gags, Nick’s a functional alcoholic who, with the exception of his glazed eyes and slurred speech, could pass for sober. Never boorish or over the top, it’s easily the most subtle performance of Ferrell’s career and actually quite tragic. On a path of self-destruction, guzzling beer after beer while sitting in his recliner, Nick is the ultimate anti-hero: the protagonist who you want to help but can’t even bother helping himself.
Elevating Nick is the writing and performances behind his wonderful supporting cast. Wallace, in only his second feature film, is a perfect, innocent counterbalance to Ferrell. A loner who gets bullied at school and rides his bike all day while his mom is at work, the character’s friendship with Nick brings heart and humanity to the story and prevents the audience from rejecting the lead. This same idea extends to Rebecca Hall, who plays Samantha, Nick’s pregnant new neighbor who has moved in across the street. Quiet and shy, but also flawed, she never asks Nick why he’s living on his lawn and operates as a positive, optimistic force. While many actresses would overplay the character’s sympathetic side, Hall’s understated approach mixed with her own brand of contained charisma is enchanting. Lightening the tone without ever making the film feel uneven, the story balances on the three characters like a tripod and never falters.
From a stylistic point of view, the film is somewhat lacking. Already at a disadvantage due to the bland Arizona suburb setting Rush’s focus seems to be primarily on the story, which serves him well in the end, but a more visual approach could have taken the movie to another level. While there are the occasional flashes of potential – Ferrell framed in a wide shot begging for beer in front of a convenient store is haunting and perfectly illustrates the depths to which he has sunk – the visual element of the story is indicative of a first-time filmmaker (as Rush is).
While many try to prove otherwise, not all comedians are actors and not all actors are comedians. With his performance in Everything Must Go, Will Ferrell has proven that he is capable of blurring that line. Certainly a natural comedian, Dan Rush’s film provides a testing ground for Ferrell to prove himself and he succeeds.