Everything Must Go
Updated: Feb 4, 2020
Everything Must Go is about a man who has hit bottom. Will Ferrell stars as Nick Halsey, who, as the film opens, finds that his drinking has cost him both his job and his wife. He returns home after being fired to find that all of his possessions have been placed on his front lawn along with a note from his wife saying she has left him. She has also changed all the locks on the house and cancelled his credit cards. With limited funds and no place to go, Nick buys a six-pack of beer and settles into the recliner that has been dumped on his yard. After neighbors call the police to complain about a man seemingly living on his front lawn, he contacts his sponsor, Frank, who is also a homicide detective. Frank tells him that if he at least pretends to have a yard sale, state law says he will have five days before he has to get off of his lawn. While living on his lawn he meets Kenny, a lonely boy whose mother cares for an elderly woman down the street, and Samantha, a pregnant woman who just moved in and is waiting for her husband to arrive. Nick eventually enters into a sort of friendship with both of them that begins to gently nudge him out of his stupor.
Will Ferrell is considered to be a personality star. His films usually open very strong and that is mainly due to the audience’s appreciation for his lovable man-child persona. When he does stray from this character it is usually in smaller films where the director is able to use him against type and he is given an opportunity to showcase his real acting talents. The studio was probably thrilled to see his name attached to this movie in the hopes that he would bring in an audience that would normally not be interested in seeing this kind of slow moving character study.
In this film, all of the acting is kept at a realistic level. There is no over playing. Every character seems like someone who could be living on your street. The editing is kept hidden in the many dialogue heavy scenes. The director, Dan Rush, allows the actors to recite their dialogue without a lot of audience manipulation. This shows his faith in the material as well as in the actors’ ability to successfully convey the feelings of their characters.
Will Ferrell’s performance dominates the movie since he is in practically every scene. However, the other actors are well cast to play opposite him, particularly Rebecca Hall as the pregnant woman, and Christopher Jordan Wallace as the boy who becomes his friend. All of the other actors were cast for the presence that they bring with them that allows us to quickly understand who their characters are despite their relatively short screen time. Dan Rush and his casting director brought in the types of actors that could perform the material realistically and, most importantly, deliver the dialogue so that it doesn’t feel like they are characters in a movie, but rather everyday people experiencing everyday problems.
In addition to directing the film, Dan Rush also wrote it. He based it on a short story by Raymond Carver titled "Why Don’t You Dance?" Carver’s story is about a man who has decided to have a yard sale and has arranged his things on the front lawn the same way they were placed in the house. He drinks, a young couple shows up, they drink and talk, the couple buys some stuff, the end. Though the writing is more nuanced than I have indicated, as you can tell, there is not nearly enough story here for a feature length film. What Rush chose to do when expanding the story was focus on the man, who he is, how he got where he is, and why he is selling all his things.
In a short story you don’t always need to completely flesh out your characters. The little details go a long way. However, for the film version to succeed, the protagonist had to have more depth as a person to get the audience to care about his predicament. Rush then created a few people in the neighborhood for his main character to interact with so we could learn more about the kind of person he is.
All of this could describe a comedy as well as a drama. Both of these elements are present in the screenplay which just watches this man, from his point of view, as he sits in his recliner and stubbornly refuses to change his ways. The characters are articulate and their speech is realistic. The story is realistic as well, aside from the premise, which is a little unlikely. It seems as though the film is more inspired by the short story than directly based on it. However, Rush was able to develop the screenplay without losing the tone or themes of the original story.
The Production as a Whole
Everything Must Go is, more than anything else, a showcase for Will Ferrell. The direction is understated and the movie does not feel written for the most part. That leaves the actors to carry the load. With Ferrell’s character prominent throughout the entire film he has to shoulder the brunt of it. He has a reputation as a comedic actor but with this movie he continues to prove that he is a gifted dramatic actor as well. Some actors have trouble transferring from comedy to more dramatic work, but Ferrell brings real depth to his performance. This is especially important early on in the film because at that point in the story his character, Nick, is not really verbally expressing his feelings. It’s not until the halfway point that he starts sharing with the other characters.
The writing is also pretty good as Dan Rush succeeds in maintaining a solid pace. Just watching a man live through a few days where not a lot happens could possibly become boring, but the dialogue and interplay between the characters kept it entertaining. I was especially impressed with the way he wrote Kenny, the boy. He’s not comic relief, nor is he the wise child that helps our hero find his way. Instead, he’s just a smart, lonely, inquisitive kid with weight issues looking to pass some time. In the end, however, I didn’t feel like the whole of the movie lived up to its potential. Despite some of the lighter moments, this story is actually quite sad. This man’s drinking has essentially ruined his life and it felt like the narrative could have gone to darker places than the director allowed it to. This is a good movie with a great performance, but I feel like it could have been better.
3 1/2 out of 5
Will Ferrell as Nick Halsey
Christopher Jordan Wallace as Kenny Loftus
Rebecca Hall as Samantha
Michael Pena as Frank Garcia
Screenplay and Directed by Dan Rush