Sunday, May 22, 2011

Review: "Everything Must Go"

It happens every so often, with varying degrees of success: the much-talked about funny-man goes dramatic movie. Yet for Will Ferrell, so often seen on screen as an obnoxious, socially obtuse buffoon, this is territory that has been visited before (06's Stranger Than Fiction). And, after seeing Everything Must Go, adapted from a Raymond Carver short story, one wonders why Ferrell doesn't try roles like this more often, because he's actually quite capable with them.

Everything Must Go opens with a rather typical set-up: a guy has an inordinately bad day. Here, that guy is Nick Halsey (Ferrell), who loses his job, his wife, and his house all in one fell swoop. He's now forced to live on his lawn, where his wife has left all of his belongings strewn about while she goes to live in some unknown location. Though he initially struggles with his new "home," Nick gradually befriends a local boy named Kenny (Christopher Jordan Wallace) and his new, pregnant neighbor (Rebecca Hall), both of whom help Nick dig out of his rut.

Dan Rush's adaptation of Carver's story is, appropriately, small. Small in scale, small in emotion, etc. Initially, this can be off-putting, with the opening 20-30 minutes coming off as too low-key to the point of being emotionally tone deaf. It's enough to leave one thinking that all Ferrell will be required to do is wear a vaguely sad mask for 100 minutes. Thankfully, the film finds its way out of this uneasy territory as its three main characters finally begin to interact with greater meaning and purpose. It's a movie of little moments, devoid of melodrama even when the story introduces a twist that could have potentially gone in that direction. The result is a movie that is gentle, but not saccharine, one that allows its emotions to play out naturally. When the film arrives at its two scenes of emotional outburst, they feel earned, and don't stick out from the rest of the story.

For Ferrell, it's the type of film that is stripped down enough to give the actor breathing room. Gone are the typically oafish tendencies of his mainstream roles. Nick is a real character, one worth sympathizing with, despite his share of faults. The screenplay might not necessarily go as deep into said faults as it could, but Ferrell is able to make the character's mix of confusion, desperation, and disappointment feel genuine. Young Mr. Wallace does a nice job as well, and his understated chemistry with Ferrell works, and helps provide the handful of laughs scattered throughout. In a slightly more peripheral role is Rebecca Hall, always a lovely presence. Hers is a role mostly relegated to ordinary conversation, yet when the time comes for her to bring her own conflicts out into the open, she handles them with a beautiful mix of strength and vulnerability. Characters further removed from Ferrell, like Laura Dern's former high school love interest, or Michael Pena's officer/AA sponsor are less successfully drawn (Dern is practically a glorified cameo), however.

But the film ultimately belongs to Ferrell, which is most certainly a good thing. He not only anchors this lightweight dramedy, but also turns in one of the best performances of his career. Like the film around him, his work initially feels modest, perhaps too modest. Yet as it develops over time, a small gem emerges. It's not a major work, but it deserves recognition for delivering a nice mix of drama and comedy, rendered on such an intimate scale.

Grade: B-

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