Everything Must Go (R)
Kimball's Peak Three
On paper, Everything Must Go has everything going for it: one of comedy's biggest stars stretching a dramatic muscle that keeps getting stronger; a strong supporting cast, including Rebecca Hall and Michael Peña; roots in a Raymond Carver short story; and direction from Dan Rush, a young TV-commercial guy making his feature debut.
So why is it so listless? Will Ferrell, whose Stranger Than Fiction performance revealed surprising depth, plays Nick Halsey, an alcoholic who woke up next to a co-worker on a business trip one morning and found himself besieged by trouble. The film comes in shortly thereafter. Fallen off the wagon (again), Halsey promptly gets fired from his well-paying job, loses his company car, and finds that his wife has not only left him, but locked him out and left all of his belongings strewn angrily on the front lawn of their house.
Rock bottom is one thing, but collecting the pieces of your life in view of your neighbors is beyond embarrassing. The cops are promptly called, but Halsey's lucky enough to have a sponsor on the force: Frank Garcia (Peña), who advises calling the situation a yard sale, gifting Halsey a five-day grace period.
That's when he meets Kenny (Christopher Jordan Wallace), a portly kid whose mom leaves him to ride his bike around the block all day while she works as a nurse for an elderly lady. Kenny circles Halsey's lawn like a fly at a garbage dump, but Halsey learns that he's not interested in his stuff so much as he's interested in Halsey's situation.
Halsey hires Kenny as a yard-sale consultant of sorts, and soon Kenny's diligence allows Halsey breathing room to start repairing his life. He meets Samantha (Hall), his new, pregnant neighbor, who inspires and depresses him in equal order. She's interesting and pretty, but her husband, who hasn't yet moved to town, reminds him of himself and he can only see her headed for a dead end.
I adored these characters, thanks in part to Rush's deliberately labored pacing. He gives them room to find themselves within the story, and Ferrell and Wallace in particular develop chemistry before our eyes. Wallace, the son of the late Notorious B.I.G., has his father's pools of sadness behind his eyes, and his presence is somehow fresh and familiar at once. Similarly, Ferrell is an actor the audience can luxuriate in; he's so unpredictable. Because we've seen his behavioral extremes and willingness to sustain absurdism at any cost, we're comfortable with his stillness.
I'm not so sure, however, that the film is as comfortable with it. Everything hits a sizable lull in its second act, where it seems Rush has run out of situations for Halsey to encounter on that lawn. He's explored the neighbors' private lives and gone through his money and beer, and with days left before the climactic yard sale, the film feels adrift, almost dead in the water. There's something about those setting and rising suns on that front lawn that makes the film feel more bloated than it had to be.
At least it does the heavy lifting required to get back on its feet and headed toward a resolution. And I guess if you're going to be stuck on a desert island — or deserted suburban home, in this case — you could do worse than being there with Will Ferrell.