Combining Will Ferrell with Raymond Carver may seem like a square peg-round hole situation. But the true mismatch in Everything Must Go is between writer-director Dan Rush and Carver’s modestly funny tale (originally titled “Why Don’t You Dance”) of an alkie who briefly lives on his front lawn.
Returning to straight-faced mode six long years after Stranger Than Fiction, Ferrell plays Nick, a sadsack who’s fired from his job the same day his wife chucks him, as well as his many belongings, out of their suburban manse. With no money and nowhere to go, Nick sets up fort outside, knocking back PBR tall boys and gradually learning to open up to a coterie of lonely neighbors. Across the street, pregnant Samantha (Rebecca Hall) unpacks her new house while awaiting the increasingly put-off arrival of a never-seen, callous husband. She slowly breaks down his defenses, as does latchkey kid Kenny (C.J. Wallace, sad-faced son of Biggie). Incredibly, his boozy actions barely pester others in this suspiciously unpopulated neighborhood.
The problem isn’t Ferrell, who does admirable, if unspectacular, low-key work. It’s a script that takes a possibly rich premise and fails utterly to recognize its potential. This is a classic case of an unimaginative filmmaker working with a concept that requires imagination. Just like its protagonist, who arranges his furniture on the lawn and then simply sits there, waiting out time, Rush is out of ideas once the premise has been established. Panicked, he immediately begins the ceremonial lunging for viewers’ heart strings.
And with that Carver has been lazily turned into standard indie piffle. It’s The Station Agent where the big A-list comic actor is the dwarf—an antisocial, self-pitying, fish-out-of-water grump gradually de-assholed by a pair of souls less ostentatious about their psychic damage. Let’s ignore the strong possibility that a typically Ferrell-esque comic treatment of this set-up would have likely wound up more insightful (and more engaging, natch). As it stands, I’d almost rather rewatch Melinda and Melinda.