Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Everything Must Go

"Priced To Move"
"'Bye-Bye' Says the Junk in the Yard"

Job had it easy.

After being fired from his job for some sexual malfeasance that he was too drunk to remember, Nick Halsey (Will Ferrell) drives home—stopping on the way to get a case and a half of PBR—and finds that all of his belongings are on the front lawn, strewn about, the flotsam and jetsam of a life that's hit a reef.  The house locks have been changed.  The garage code is different.  There's a note on his door from his wife saying she's leaving him and "Don't Call." His credit cards don't work.  His bank account has been frozen.  His cell-phone is disconnected. 

That solves the "don't call" problem.

Then, his company car gets repossessed.

What else can happen?  Well, his next-door neighbor (Stephen Root) can pass by and say "...saw this coming a mile off."

"Thanks for warning me..." says Nick, simmering.

There's a nice tone-shift to Everything Must Go.  It stars Ferrell, who goes dramatic here, but the doofus-slob-schtick that he has honed over the years serves him well as he goes through humiliation after humiliation—as a performer, he's never steered clear of making himself appear foolish.  He has, in fact, embraced it.  The physical comedy looks nicely unplanned, but still has a chortling superior sting to it.  Ferrell can be a cruel comedian but it's mostly self-imposed, the barbs on the wires facing inward like a crown of thorns.  And he has a nice explosive quality that makes you wonder when he's going to go offThe fuse between comedy and drama is enticingly short.  There's a bit of Peter Sellers to Ferrell at his best that makes you want to laugh almost defensively.  That's in good play here.

Everything Must Go is based on Raymond Carver's short story "Why Don't You Dance?"* (you can read the whole thing here—go ahead, it'll only take five minutes) and writer-director Dan Rush has done yeoman's work taking the author's slice of a story and expanding it to feature length.  In fact, the couple that dominate the story don't even appear.  Rush has taken the bare-bones carcass of the story and reconstructed it, focussing on the pain—and the emotional journey—of the man with the rummage sale of a life, laid bare for all the world to see...and eventually, pick over.

I love Carver's writing.  He makes kernels of story that feel emotionally real, of lives tipped over and spilling, the contents of privacy exposed to the air and either flowering or rotting.  A little push and we could all go there, his situations just a happenstance, a coin-toss, away.  Would we act that way?  Do we recognize ourselves in such circumstances?  And Rush takes the premise and goes back in time and forward, filling the gaps, creating the world of the man who, at first, drunkenly, defiantly lays his past bare...and then, lets it go.

Most of Everything Must Go works.  There is a logical progression to what Rush has put together to get to the point of the Carver story, although it may seem a little bottled up with some contrivance—a side-track to a story involving Laura Dern probably wasn't necessary, but it opens the movie up a bit and it's always nice to see Dern.

But it's all Ferrell, with some nice work by Michael Peña, Rebecca Hall, and Christopher Jordan Wallace, who has the most to do (besides Ferrell), as the kid who hangs around and gets sucked in to the situation, and like others, manages to gain something from the deconstruction of a marriage.  One wonders if the comedian, fearing that he might be found out by going sentimental, doesn't hold back some effort, thereby bringing more of a sense of peace...or the character by the film's end.  But, then, maybe that hesitancy is the punch-line he wanted, walking away leaving the audience wanting more.  It's a far cry from Land of the Lost.  And admirable.

Everything Must Go is a Matinee.

Yeah.  No.  It doesn't feel like this chirpy trailer at all.

* Since writing this, I've discovered there is a short Australian film based on the story, and following Carver's story far more closely called Everything Goes. It stars Hugo Weaving and Abbie Cornish.
You can find it on the web.

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