The recent films of Will Ferrell have been hit and miss. The Other Guys was a fantastic return to the improv magic of Anchorman (both were directed by Adam McKay), while Land of the Lost and Semi-Pro were not met with kind reviews or box office figures. If Ferrell isn’t a guaranteed hit-maker, he does have a great opportunity to try his hand at other roles. And as the lead in the drama Everything Must Go, he’s something to behold.
Nick Halsey (Ferrell) is stuck, not just in a rut, but in a ditch covered in flames: In the same day he’s fired, then comes home to find all of his possessions on his lawn, and the locks changed – his wife wants him out. Things go from bad to sad when Nick decides to live on the lawn and relapses into his alcoholic ways, stacking twelve-packs of cheap beer at the local convenience store, then proceeding to plow through them like a wrecking ball the same night. Unexpected guests attempt to divert Nick away from his Highway to Cirrhosis: wandering neighborhood kid Kenny (Christopher Jordan Wallace), his AA sponsor Frank Garcia (Michael Pena), and new neighbor Samantha (Rebecca Hall).
The film focuses on Nick’s quest, in the wake of these calamities, to find his identity-especially who he is without booze in his hand. In one scene Nick details an allegation of wrongdoing, but when asked if it’s true he doesn’t know – he was too drunk to remember. It’s this alcohol-fueled haze that Nick struggles against, playing a game of Clue against himself – “Did I kill the maid in the library with the wrench? Or am I a decent human being?”
The film also believably showcases the depth of human compassion as Nick continues to receive help from others – even when he’s most undeserving of it. Nick’s quest and the people who aid him draw the audience to hope for this pitiable person.
Everything Must Go isn’t Will Ferrell’s first foray into drama (it was the underrated Stranger Than Fiction), but this is definitely his finest. Normally if you give a Will Ferrell character some beer he’ll end up drunk-naked and loud as hell. In this film, Ferrell taps into the unfiltered pain of alcoholism, immediately seizing beers when emotional turmoil comes knocking. His face isn’t just for clowning, but conveys the depth of Nick’s psychological turmoil with finesse.
Rebecca Hall shines as she pushes Nick to get his shit together, and Christopher Jordan Wallace’s quiet earnestness commands your attention.
The only real flaw with the picture is that it fails to draw a distinct connection between Nick’s stuff strewn about the lawn and the past emotional damage he’s wrought as an alcoholic. Lacking the development of this connection, the emotional high of the penultimate garage sale falls flat. Thankfully this isn’t the film’s closing moment, which offers better catharsis and introspection.
Everything Must Go‘s thesis statement might read, “There is hope.” Contrary to the traditional movie universe, not all things can be put back as they once were – but being willing to start fresh can be a bigger triumph.