Long after the dust settles on his career, Will Ferrell will probably be best remembered as the star of Anchorman, or for his perpetual manchild routines in Talladega Nights or Step Brothers or Old School, and his more serious roles like the excellent, underrated Stranger Than Fiction will no doubt take a back seat.
Everything Must Go is a melancholic, bittersweet portrait of man who has lost everything: a relapsed alcoholic, he loses his job at the outset, and subsequently discovers that his wife has left him over his drinking and an implied incident of adultery at a work convention – he is a man cut out of life, in the process of being erased, and unable to fight for his own survival.
Nick isn’t necessarily an innocent victim – the film in fact takes great effort to say that he is at fault for almost everything that goes wrong for him – but we are still invited to sympathise with him. He is a melancholic, tragic fool, attempting to pick up the pieces of his broken marriage and life, but hampered by the boxing-gloves of his alcoholism and tendency towards self-destructive impulse. He is a normal man, strung along by the fallacy of hope (which is in some ways cruelly engineered by both the film’s tone at times, and his friend and sponsor Frank – played by Michael Pena), and the film’s entire pleasure is in watching Ferrell navigate the difficult path from cyclical self-destruction to self-awareness and redemption, even in tiny moments on film.
Everything Must Go and Stranger Than Fiction are actually easy bedfellows: both are relatively gentle portraits of personal tragedy and a journey to redemption, both cast Ferrell as a broken man, and both are touched by pathos. Similarly, neither film’s tone is immediately nailed down, they are ambiguous to the end, never quite hinting at where the resolution will leave their central characters, and while Stranger… offers a pleasant, if slightly mawkish finale, there is no such luck for Everything Must Go, though there is certainly a sense that what happens in the conclusion is what Nick needs the most.
Ferrell is great, proving once more that his acting ability goes way beyond the caricatures and comic creations that have defined his career to date for the most part – he has a very good face for pathos, his big soulful eyes that are so important to creating contagious comedy are put to great use conveying his emotional turmoil here, particularly when he is in pain, and he has the kind of expressive face that usually makes comic actors transition well to emotionally charged dramatic roles.
Alongside him, the film boasts a talented cast: key to the events of the film, and to the audience’s understanding of Nick as a human being, and not just a poster boy for self-destruction are his three main relationships with a new neighbour (Rebecca Hall), his sponsor (Michael Pena) and a local youngster he employs to help him with his life-changing yard sale (played by Christopher Jordan Wallace). Each dynamic is completely compelling and believable, particularly the peculiar sexless relationship between Nick and his neighbour Samantha (Hall), through which Nick offers sage advice and vicariously replots the mistakes he made in his relationship. The chemistry between Ferrell and Wallace is also very impressive – theirs is a dynamic ruled by difference – they are an archetypal odd-couple that indie films like this seem to love so much, and Wallace is very good as a naive, socially awkward teenager who is initially uncomfortable in his own body. The paternally influenced friendship that blossoms between the two is entertaining to watch, and both actors do well never to quite stray into saccharine sentimentalism.
The film also looks great, director Dan Rush very clearly has very fixed ideas of how to create an essentially indie aesthetic, through atypical shot composition and stark, natural lighting that gives the actors very little space to hide. Added to that is a pleasant, idiosyncratic soundtrack that seems to convey the spirit of Rush’s central character and which is already a firm favourite on my own iPod.
Overall, Everything Must Go is a pleasantly engaging, entertaining human portrait – a journey that doesn’t physically stray very far, but which treads a million metaphorical miles within its main character as he attempts to go from broken man to redeemed man. It’s not an easy journey for him, and the film never shies away from showing his demons, even if it glosses over his backstory a little (in an attempt, obviously to make his a very immediate story) and ultimately chooses to absolve him of much of the blame that it spends so much time suggesting he must shoulder and accept as part of himself.
The high-definition transfer here is very strong, with great attention to detail, particularly in close-ups, of which there are many, and a wonderful natural pallette. Colours are good throughout, black levels are equally strong and there are minimal signs of softness, other than that which is naturally created by the bright light of the mostly outdoor setting.
Fittingly for the tone of the film, the audio soundscape is limited and mostly very quiet, with an excellent, gentle soundtrack which sonically frames shots wonderfully. Quiet does not, however, mean unimpressive: dialogue, which is hugely important for the story-telling, is perfectly clear, and despite the lower activity levels, the background is alive with the typical sounds of a suburban neighbourhood. Nothing is particularly bombastic, but it is just not that type of film, and it is wholly impressive on its own unspectacular terms.
Nothing hugely spectacular, though the audio commentary with Dan Rush and Michael Pena is a worthwhile addition. Other that that there’s a character profile with Will Ferrell, which offers some insight into the difficulties the actor faced in creating the character of Nick and making him dramatically convincing, and then a short, promo-ish Behind the Scenes featurette and a handful of deleted scenes. Solid, but unspectacular.
- Audio Commentary with Director Dan Rush and Actor Michael Peña
- In Character With Will Ferrell (HD; 8:31 mins)
- Behind the Scenes Featurette (HD; 10:34 mins)
- Deleted Scenes (HD; 12:54 mins)