A man loses his job and is kicked out of his house by his wife — and then things really start to go downhill — in Everything Must Go, an entertainingly dark comedy-drama starring Will Ferrell.
We meet Nick Halsey (Ferrell) just as his boss Gary (Glenn Howerton) is about to fire him. Whatever kind of salesman Nick may be, any successes have finally been eclipsed by failures — rehab that hasn’t seemed to work, DUIs and other booze-fueled trouble including a recent incident involving a female co-worker and a subsequent lawsuit. In coldly upbeat corporate speak, Gary hustles Nick out the door with only a few boxes of personal items and a parting gift — a Swiss Army knife that Nick promptly plunges in a higher-up’s car tire (getting it stuck there and, since it has his name on it, further burning any bridges he had left).
After taking a swig from a flask — perhaps to tide him over until he picks up a case of beer at the convenience store — Nick heads home only to find all of his belongings sitting on his front lawn. His wife has not only tossed him out but tossed out his clothes, record collection, assorted knickknacks and easy chair, where — after trying the locks and the code to open the backyard fence and discovering that his wife has also changed all the locks — he plops down and drinks. Neighbors eventually call the police to complain, prompting the intervention of Detective Frank Garcia (Michael Peña), Nick’s AA sponsor. Frank comes up with a plan: because homeowners are allowed to hold yard sales for five consecutive days, Nick can spend the next few days getting his freaked-out self together and then he and his belongings have to find somewhere else to be.
At first, Nick only half-heartedly considers selling anything. When neighborhood kid Kenny (Christopher Jordon Wallace — yes, little Biggie, who played his father as a kid in Notorious) keeps riding by on his bike, Nick offers to pay him to help him sell stuff but really only uses him to watch his belongings when he (Nick) goes for a beer run (which he has to do on Kenny’s bike once his former employer repos the company car). Eventually, though, getting rid of stuff starts to take on a metaphorical as well as physical meaning for Nick.
We never see Nick’s wife but we do meet two other women — one is Samantha (Rebecca Hall), a pregnant new neighbor who seems to take pity on him. Another is Delilah (Laura Dern), a girl, now a middle-aged single mom, who saw something worthwhile in the high school-aged Nick, already a bit of a drunk.
This is not Ron Burgundy Will Ferrell; this is Harold Crick Will Ferrell — the character he played in Stranger Than Fiction — but even quieter and more downbeat than that. He is a man who has lost his fight with life. As Nick sits on his lawn considering his possessions and drinking himself into a stupor, he is not making plans to find a new job or to get an apartment or even, really, to win back his wife. He’s just wallowing, letting failure wash over him.
As you might guess from that description, Everything Must Go isn’t laugh-out-loud funny. It’s dryly, darkly humorous with a lot of observation and rumination under even the more directly comic moments. Though supporting performances — particularly from Wallace and Hall — are strong, it’s really Ferrell’s show. He does a good job of showing there’s more to him than the goofy blowhard character he’s riffed on in his broad comedies. Ferrell keeps Nick from being just a one-note joke or even a one-note tragedy — the drunk who can’t save himself. Instead, he lets Nick have heart, insight and intelligence at surprising moments. It is genuinely, well, not fun, but engrossing to watch him. Like a good book on a bleak subject, Everything Must Go pulls you in to the crisis in this man’s life and Ferrell holds you there. B
Rated R for language and some sexual content. Written and directed by Dan Rush (from a Raymond Carver short story “Why Don’t You Dance”), Everything Must Go is an hour and 36 minutes long and is distributed by Roadside Attractions.