Everything Must Go confirms what Stranger than Fiction had previously hinted at. Will Ferrell has a very deep bag of tricks. He uses Dan Rush's directorial debut to give us a performance that is deeply nuanced and modulated. The film is a bittersweet tale about a flawed individual who must rebuild himself after being faced with the wreckage of his life.
Nick Halsey (Ferrell) is having one hell of a day. First, he loses his job. Then, he goes home to find all his stuff on the lawn and a 'Dear John' letter from his wife stuck to the front door. The common theme in all of this is his drinking. You see, Nick is a functioning alcoholic. He tried sobering up but has fallen off the wagon a few too many times in the recent past. He may or may not have engaged in some drunken escapades with a female co-worker resulting in his termination and the souring of his relationship with his wife. This brings us back to his current predicament.
Unable to get into his own house and with no place else to go, Nick takes up residence on his own front yard. Parked in a comfy recliner with a beer in hand (uh oh), he takes a breather only to find out that the neighbors have lodged an official complaint against him. A local law enables him to recast the implosion of his life as a week long yard sale but if he actually plans on selling anything, he'll need help. He enlists a neighborhood kid named Kenny (Christopher Wallace) and goes about the business of parceling off his past. To get through this dark time, he will rely on friends (like his AA sponsor played by Michael Peña) and strangers (like his new neighbor played by Rebecca Hall).
I've already suggested as much but it bears repeating. This is Will Ferrell's show from start to finish. Nick's character is a challenging one on many fronts. He can be seen as dour, depressing and antagonistic towards those around him. In a lesser performer's hands, the character would have been a train wreck undeserving of sympathy from the audience. Ferrell does the impossible by making sure we are on Nick's side from the very first frame. He accomplishes this by never trying to ingratiate himself or overselling the character's plight. He regards the unfolding events from a distance, almost as if he is merely witnessing a scenario that has been replayed in his mind many times before.
While Ferrell alone could have given us a compelling one-man show, what gives the film its heart is a funny and honest performance by Wallace as Nick's little helper. The boy approaches his role with such directness and lack of artifice that we (much like Nick) have to deal with him on his own terms rather than labeling him as 'the adorable forgettable sidekick'. Peña has the more thankless role of Nick's sponsor. He does what he can with the part but I couldn't shake the feeling that he was just a plot device meant to advance (or hinder) Nick's cause at appropriate junctures in the story. Rebecca Hall's character at first seems to be set up as a romantic interest for Nick but thankfully the film has more interesting things in mind for her. Hall is suitably radiant in the role that finds her gradually lowering her guard and letting Nick into her life.
This film represents a very strong debut for writer / director Dan Rush. He is working from a short story by Raymond Carver (Why Don't You Dance?) but exhibits true skill in translating a very brief tale into a feature length piece that never drags or loses the interest of its audience. He also expertly finds plenty of small moments of humor and hope that prevent the film from being an outright downer. While no one can contest that Nick starts the film off in the shadow of a dark cloud, Rush (with support from Ferrell) charges forward in search of his silver lining. This may be a low-key film but it still qualifies as a high-wire act for everyone involved. The results are quietly breathtaking.
The film is presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. I found the image to be sharp and free of obvious defects. The color palette favors a very natural presentation which makes sense since much of the film features Ferrell in his front yard. The night scenes possess excellent shadow detail as well.
The audio is presented in a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix with optional English and Spanish subtitles. Given the subdued nature of the material at hand, it's no surprise that the audio track doesn't have to work very hard. With that said, I didn't notice any glitches in the presentation. The track was clear and the dialogue was perfectly complemented by David Torn's delicate score.
We start things off with a pair of featurettes. First up, In Character with Will Ferrell (8:34) gives us an interview with Ferrell and the director and producers of the film. They discuss the emotionally driven nature of Will's character and how they tried to work against audience expectations. Rebecca Hall also pops in to talk about the duality of strong comedians who have dramatic chops. This is followed by a Behind the Scenes featurette (10:31) which features more conversation with the cast and crew. They provide a synopsis for the film and discuss its mixture of comedy and drama. We even get a peek at the process of production design. Dan Rush also covers the inherent difficulty of adapting a 4 page story into a feature length film.
5 Deleted Scenes (12:54) cover some new terrain as Nick tries to find friendly faces in unlikely places. I can understand why the scenes were cut but they would have been nice additions to the film. An Audio Commentary with Director Dan Rush and Actor Michael Peña closes things out. The commentary track is relaxed but informative. Rush seems intent on passing along as much behind the scenes trivia as possible while Peña proves to be a thoroughly engaged listener / moderator. Both of them discuss the perils of casting and the overall rehearsal process. Rush focuses a lot of his energy on the non-verbal bits of acting peppered throughout the film. Altogether, this is a very worthwhile track to listen to.
Dan Rush adapts a Raymond Carver story (Why Don't You Dance?) with great success in Everything Must Go. Will Ferrell takes the title to heart by removing all traces of his comedic persona that have been cultivated over the years. He gives a low-key, organic performance that magnifies everything his character has lost while keeping his humanity front and center. The film slowly reveals itself as a bittersweet character study but never panders. Highly Recommended.