(Shaun’s review from last year’s London Film Festival re-posted as the film is released in the UK tomorrow)
Since ‘Stranger than Fiction’, it has seemed inevitable that Will Ferrell would have another stab at a serious role. The film was broadly well received but it didn’t quite reach the heights that perhaps it could, and so there must have been a niggling doubt that maybe he should give the whole drama thing another go. Particularly as the comedies were getting more and more derivative and less and less popular.
The drama that has landed on Ferrell’s doorstep is ‘Everything Must Go‘, a tale loosely based on a (very) short story by Raymond Carver called ‘Why Don’t You Dance?’ It centres on Nick Halsey, a sales executive and a former alcoholic. Except we join Nick as he is becoming an ex-sales executive and resuming his life as an alcoholic. To make matters worse, he comes home after being given the heave-ho and finds all of his stuff on his front lawn. up, not only has he been fired, but his wife has left him.
Cue self pity, followed by despair, followed by resignation, hope and redemption. It’s an established arc and one, I might add, that’s not present in the short story. You see, the original story was a portrait, a sad portrait of a sad moment in the life of a sad man. And there is something beautifully simple about that. But screenwriter/director Dan Rush doesn’t take the risk in telling such a sparse and difficult tale, instead he opts for this standard redemption arc.
Worse still, he crams in a whole bunch of cliches. There are a collection of neighbours who, one by one, become a glib commentary on the emptiness of suburban life, a brief trip to visit a highschool friend and search his past for signs of a better future and a magic negro (ah, that classic plot device) who helps him sell all of his stuff. Worse still, all of these characters soon sink even lower than their already uninteresting, archetypal roles, and become an ‘everyone’s ok really’ mulch that cops-out on any commentary and renders the entire journey worthless.
Still, if you’re not looking for a film that offers any meaningful insight into the world around you, but rather want a simple story about a simple man finding his way in life, then it’s not the worst thing ever. Ferrell does put in a genuinely good performance as Nick Halsey, bringing along a gamut of emotions from resignation, to desperation, to hope that help keep the narrative arc moving swiftly along despite the relative lack of events. And he is ably supported by the always-impressive Rebecca Hall, whose turn as pregnant neighbour Samantha mainly requires a knowing wisdom and a gentle heart: characteristics Hall provides with no trouble whatsoever.
And for those of you who would be disappointed not to see any comedy from Ferrell (I know there must be some of you out there) you’ll be glad to know that he pushes some scenes close to the boundary in terms of retaining their serious and sincere atmosphere. In fact I’d go as far as to say that he does this script favours by finding occasional moments of tragi-comedy that counterpoint the otherwise slow and ponderous tale quite nicely.
So whilst this isn’t the brave, slow, and intriguing tale of everything and nothing that Carver’s original short story demanded, it is a simple, affable tale of suburban redemption that ticks most of the boxes and even provides a few lighter moments in the process.
Everything Must Go is released in the U.K. on Friday on limited release before hitting Blu-ray on 31st October.