Greatly expanded from a four-page, single-situation story by Raymond Carver, Dan Rush’s first feature, Everything Must Go, is an ambitious if enervated vehicle for Will Ferrell—playing it straight as Nick Halsey, a middle-class drunk fired from his job and locked out of his suburban home by an irate, never-seen spouse on the same day.
As in the Carver story, Halsey uses the belongings his wife has dumped outside to set up house on the front lawn. His public humiliation, complete with repossessed company car and suspended bank account, is barely mitigated by the police detective (Michael Peña) who happens to be his AA sponsor and allows him a five-day grace period in which to operate an impromptu, highly metaphoric, yard sale—compelled to re-evaluate his past in the light of a cataclysmic present.
An ungainly presence who occupies far too much space, cultural and otherwise, Ferrell is one of the least sympathetic personalities in movies. To his credit, he makes almost no attempt here to woo the audience, although his self-pitying lug, usually seen parked outside in his Barcalounger, brewski in paw, eventually extracts a modicum of sympathy just by being there. Also by hitting bottom: outta money, outta beer, reduced to panhandling outside the mini-mart.
Rush has a background in commercials, but the rootsy soundtrack (Lightnin’ Hopkins, Ramblin’ Jack, Odetta, the Band) doesn’t succeed in selling the movie as an American ballad. Everything Must Go, which is ostensibly set in Scottsdale, Arizona, has a generic resemblance to broken-heartland movies like Up in the Air and Cedar Rapids, although this suburban meltdown is more depressed than either. Such warmth as it exists is generated by Halsey’s two new friends, a lonely little boy (14-year-old Christopher Jordan Wallace, son of the Notorious B.I.G.) and the pregnant, quasi-abandoned young wife across the street (Rebecca Hall), as well as the high school classmate he’s inspired to look up (Laura Dern, who brightens the movie instantly if briefly).
In the final reel, Rush introduces a plot complication that, had the preceding hour been leaner, might have worked—kind of like the Titanic sinking to reveal an iceberg. Still, I can’t dismiss the desperate social realism of a movie offering the solace of a bromide found in a fortune cookie.