I went to see this film by myself, something I so rarely do I could probably say “never” and not get into trouble. Going to the movies alone is one of those things I used to do that sounds more fun that it probably ever was. The one advantage of sneaking away on an afternoon (cheap tickets) doesn’t exist so much, and I realized that the social aspect of seeing a movie with somebody else is pretty much all that keeps me going to the theater these days. I could have spent $10.50 in a better way.
But I went, for some reason. Maybe because “Everything Must Go” is set, and filmed, in Phoenix, my once-home town. Maybe because I like Will Ferrell and wanted to see him in an unfunny role. Maybe because it was a stressful week and I wanted a temporary escape.
So. First: You can watch this at home, no problem. There’s nothing a smaller screen takes away from this small story, no explosions, no aliens, no 3D, no CGI. Scottsdale doesn’t need any extra help.
Also, it’s not that good. Nice. I enjoyed it, given everything, but I could have managed OK without seeing it.
Ferrell plays Nick Halsey, some sort of sales executive who starts off with a bad day. He gets fired. He goes home to find his wife has left, locked him out of the house, and put all his stuff on the front lawn. Furniture. Clothes. Vinyl albums, sports trophies, detritus of an unexamined life, maybe.
Halsey is an alcoholic. Lots of movie characters get described as alcoholic when all we know is that they drink a lot; this is not usually enough information to make an audience-based diagnosis.
But this guy is an alcoholic. His drinking prompted his job/spouse loss, and it spins him into a few days of stasis, a pretty common state for a drunk. He sits in his recliner in his front yard, among his possessions, drinks gallons of Pabst Blue Ribbon and thinks about his next move, but not that much. Mostly he reacts, and mostly he keeps drinking.
Alcoholics aren’t really static, of course; none of us are. They’re always moving along the continuum between relapse and recovery, and the only cinematic question here is which way Halsey is leaning. That’s why we watch.
Christopher Jordan Wallace plays a kid who’s wary of everyone but hangs out on the lawn with Nick for practical reasons: He needs an adult male, needs some advice, needs a little help. Wallace does a great job at portraying a boy already carrying a little grown-up weariness and skepticism but still just a kid.
Laura Dern has a small, cameo-ish role as a former high school classmate whom Nick looks up on a whim, a stray yearbook comment having caught his eye while he was making an inventory. She’s also a little wary of this strange man, barely remembered, who wants something she can’t quite figure out, but it’s a careful scene; it feels contrived but I recognized the emotion, the urge to find someone from the past who remembers the way we were.
Rebecca Hall looks like she came into this film from a completely different casting session, such a superb actress in such a small film. She plays Nick’s new neighbor across the street, a pregnant woman awaiting her husband’s arrival, and someone who seems, after a bit, to know something about broken men. There’s a wonderful scene, an impromptu Chinese food dinner on the lawn with Nick in which she and we both discover, at the same moment, that it’s possible Halsey has a dark and maybe dangerous side to his drunk. Probably not, but watching Hall gently extricate herself and her baby bump, just in case, was the best moment in the film.
This is a short movie and feels shorter. It’s based on Raymond Carver’s story “Why Don’t You Dance?” (which I actually just read for the first time a month ago), filling in the details that Carver liked to leave for his readers. Maybe this is why it doesn’t linger for me. That, and an ending that doesn’t satisfy us, doesn’t do much of anything, a good choice in a different film but one that doesn’t help here.
Still, it’s worth seeing if you’re a fan of Will Ferrell, as I am, and wonder what he can do, and particularly if you’ve enjoyed his performances in “Stranger Than Fiction” or “Winter Passing.” He could have easily turned scenes into slapstick, but then Nick Halsey’s life has stopped being funny. Sometimes alcoholics need to get rid of their stuff, the junk as well as the precious parts, in order to change. “Everything Must Go” shows us the start of that process and allows us to wonder about the rest, and that’s not a bad story to tell.