Will Ferrell’s brand of comedy doesn’t appeal to me, by and large. My favorites of his films are not the crowd-pleasers, but Stranger than Fiction, an offbeat comedy-drama, and Elf, a whimsical fable that required a sincere performance as much as comic knowhow.
With the release of Everything Must Go, it becomes clearer than ever: Ferrell is a very good actor.
While there are light moments, this is a serious film. There’s nothing funny about the main character, an alcoholic sales executive who’s burned all his bridges. In the film’s opening moments he is fired from his longtime job; we then follow him to a Phoenix suburb where he learns that he is also—
—homeless, since his wife has left him, changed the locks on their house, and tossed all his belongings onto the front lawn. Neighbors assume it’s a gigantic yard sale—which it isn’t, at first. Then Ferrell meets a lonely boy named Kenny (nicely played by Christopher Jordan C.J. Wallace) and puts him to work.
Rebecca Hall plays Ferrell’s new neighbor, with whom he builds a tentative connection, just as the onetime hotshot finds a true friend in young Kenny.
First-time writer-director Dan Rush took his premise from a four-page short story by Raymond Carver, but much of the script is his invention. (Robert Altman also made subtle but significant changes in his Carver-inspired feature Short Cuts. If people admire the man’s writing so much, why do they alter his work?)
The film runs out of steam far too early and meanders toward its predictable conclusion. A subplot involving a character played by Michael Peña is introduced in haphazard fashion, too late to have the impact it should.
Will Ferrell is, in fact, the best thing about the picture, playing a man who’s living in denial, a salesman by trade—and by nature—who puts on a good face for the world while problems are eating away at him. This isn’t a glib piece of acting but a nuanced portrayal, and while the character repeatedly makes bad decisions we still root for him, because of Ferrell’s innate likability. I only wish the movie were as good as his work in it.