REVIEWED: EVERYTHING MUST GO (LFF – DAY 5)

Everything Must Go

Ferrell does well though the cliches come thick and fast.

When a film featuring a major Hollywood star appears at a festival without a distributor, it is usually not a good sign. Everything Must Go, the debut work of Dan Rush, is a tepid dramatic venture for Will Ferrell, demonstrating his ability to perform well in the straight arena, though the script is too pat to transform his performance into something truly evocative and meaningful.

Nick (Ferrell) is an alcoholic who has recently relapsed, causing him to be fired from his well-paid job. Resultantly, his wife (who we never see) throws his possessions out on the lawn and changes the locks, effectively kicking him out and dissolving their marriage. Nick, with no place to go, camps out on the lawn, but when the authorities come a-knocking, he discovers that the only way he can remain there legally for the next five days is to hold a yard sale. In this stead he meets a neglected local youth (CJ Wallace) who wants to help, and a pregnant neighbour, Samantha (Rebecca Hall), who is sympathetic to his plight but seems to have her own issues.

Everthing Must Go is a fair departure for Will Ferrell, giving him a solid chance to show his more subdued acting chops, and despite the bland dramedy treatment lent by the script, he nevertheless grabs it. While telling an inherently downbeat story tipped with hope, there is however still plenty of room for Ferrell to be the funnyman, demonstrating a dryer, sparser type of humour that will be no doubt be refreshing to those who find his usual man-child pro-forma tiresome.

While unquestionably well-intentioned, the film is just too conventional and trite to resonate emotionally (and is as a result eerily reminiscent of a similar film that struggled to find an audience – the Luke Wilson vehicle Henry Poole is Here); the burgeoning friendship between a hard-done-by man without children and a child without a father has been done to death, and here little is done to rejuvenate the formula. It is all a bit inert and harmless in honesty, not helped by the fact that the initial set up – that the daft, supposed yard sale law would stop the police arresting someone for what is effectively trespassing – is awfully flaky. If you are prepared to accept the silly premise, then there are some intermittently inspired moments, such as when a food delivery man gets very confused trying to bring Nick his grub.

In Rush’s defense, he introduces several characters who raise red flags, yet he does not deign to the expected formula. Rebecca Hall’s pregnant, married neighbour character almost instantly invites fear that she is to be telegraphed as a love interest, yet thankfully the trajectory is less histrionic and more mature. Samantha makes her husband sound like a domineering prig, which a lesser film would have used to set up a potential romance with Nick, but Rush admirably, quietly toys with our genre anticipations. Similarly, Laura Dern makes a fleeting appearance as a high school acquaintance of Nick’s, raising the expectation that a forced happy ending is going to be rushed through in a romance between the two, though thankfully Rush never succumbs to the temptation. The only implausibility, really, is why Dern’s character isn’t at all creeped out by the fact that Nick called her parents up and found out where she lived after having not seen her for 20 years.

Without doubt, things run smoothest when allowing Ferrell to fashion his dramatic identity unencroached upon, as Nick pores over old glory and the fragments of his evacuated life. When asked by his youthful companion what became of him, he utters, “life happens”; you can count its utterance in from three, but that doesn’t make its truth any less valid. As a whole, though, the film struggles to find steady resonance; most characters who present an emotional opportunity to Nick are in-and-out in moments (Dern especially), but this is also part of the film’s point, and in it Nick finds fuel for his anxiety, inviting a relapse, resulting in one particularly desperate sight, as he, with no money, begs shoppers for a free beer. This also allows a fiery (and very well-acted) subsequent confrontation between Hall and Ferrell’s characters as a result.

Sadly though, the film’s most important antagonism – a bout of left-field animosity that emerges out of nowhere – is poorly handled, as a result of Michael Pena’s sponsor character being fatally underwritten, causing the ensuing mess to seem overwrought, with an out-of-nowhere revelation that isn’t aptly lingered on and is simply too abrupt to allow us to care too much.

The end avoids at least two predictable salvation scenarios to its credit, but this isn’t a particularly memorable outing for Ferrell, even though his personal effort to do something a little different is mostly a success. Hopefully the film’s (presently) meagre status won’t discourage him from branching out more in the future, but Everything Must Go, financials aside, is the definition of lukewarm.

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