Will Ferrell shows that he could have a career beyond stupid comedy with Everything Must Go, a film by first-timer Dan Rush based on a Raymond Carver short story.
And really, Will Ferrell -- you're a smart guy who's gotten huge paydays for films like The Wrong Guys, Land of the Lost and Step-Brothers -- hopefully you've managed it to the point that you've already got your "F*** you" money. I just read an interview where you said that, because the studio balked at Anchorman 2, you've got time to do artier films like Everything Must Go. Seize the moment and run with it, dude.
In Rush's film, Ferrell plays Nick Halsey, a long-time salesman at a company who is called in one day and told that he's being let go. The company is downsizing -- and his drinking has become too problematic. As a "retirement" gift, his boss gives him a large pocket knife with his name engraved on it -- which Nick promptly uses to puncture his boss's tires (burying it so deeply he can't remove it).
That's just the start of Nick's horrible no-good very bad day. He gets home to find that his wife has moved out -- and has locked him out of their house. Even worse: She's put all his stuff on the front lawn.
So Nick decides he'll show her: He takes up residence in his favorite recliner on the front lawn. Luckily for him, he lives in Arizona, where it doesn't rain. Unluckily, the sprinklers are set to go off each morning.
His life continues its downhill slide, mitigated only by the beer he buys and pounds down. For starters, his company credit card is cut off. And his company car is repossessed, leaving him no transportation. Oh, and the neighbors complain to the cops, who inform him that he has three days to vacate the lawn.
He's lonely but not alone. He gets visits from his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor (Michael Pena). He attracts the friendly attention of a new neighbor, a pregnant woman named Samantha (Rebecca Hall), whose husband is moving them there for his job - but hasn't made the move himself yet. And there's a pre-teen named Kenny (Christopher John Wallace, son of the late rapper, Notorious B.I.G.), who comes by on his bike to engage Nick in conversation, mostly because he's at loose ends while his mother works as a caregiver down the block.
The question for Nick is: Can he give up his stuff? Can he let go of the old life and his possessions and simply move on? It will mean a total restructuring of his world, including the drinking. Will being stuck on his lawn provide the perspective he requires to discard the past and move on?
Ferrell, who was also very good playing relatively straight in Stranger Than Fiction, plays completely straight here - and smart. He's an alcoholic but not a childish one. Instead, Ferrell finds the seam of self-pity and restlessness that keep this man from following his own best interests until it is almost too late. It's a subtly blunt performance, one in which you can see Ferrell thinking in character. How often does that happen?
The rest of the cast offers the support he needs, including the always reliable Stephen Root as his persnickety neighbor (with his own kinky secrets); Hall as the empathetic but nervous new friend; Laura Dern (in a brief turn as a high-school friend Nick seeks out) and Wallace, as the wary kid who becomes Nick's confidante.
Everything Must Go is what a filmed short story should be: compact, deep with character but still contained in its action and settings. It's nice to see Ferrell stretching himself. Time for more of that career yoga, Will.
Follow Marshall Fine on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hollywoodnfine