Sunday, 11 December 2011

Film Review: Everything Must Go

While I don't necessarily agree that Will Ferrell is as hilarious as some make him out to be, one thing I do admire about the man is that, unlike many familiar comic actors, he has displayed a range of acting ability. Admittedly Ferrell is invariably involved in some farcical nonsense more often than not, but 2006's Stranger Than Fiction showed a side to the man few ever thought he had. Alas such performances have been few and far between, until now that is with the similarly understated Everything Must Go.

Based on the short novel Why Don't You Dance? by Raymond Carver, relapsed alcoholic Nick (Ferrell) is fired from his job as a marketing executive. Returning to his suburban home he finds himself locked out the house, his wife gone and his possessions scattered all over the lawn. Bank accounts frozen and company car also taken away, Nick takes to living on his front yard in full view of the neighbours. When police detective Frank Garcia (Peña), who also happens to be Nick's AA sponsor, gives him five-days to clear out, Nick holds an impromptu and emblematical yard sale.

This is a melancholy story and whilst it touches on the reasons as to how Nick got to this point in the first place, it never dwells on them. Instead it is more concerned with how one picks themselves up when you've been publicly humiliated and reached rock bottom. Yes, there are comedic elements to this, mainly derived from the sheer improbability of how much bad luck can befall someone in a single day, but there is more to Everything Must Go than that. Indeed, it's not really a comedy at all. Where many films ply their trade on getting laughs out of misfortune, the case is so tragic here that you'd feel guilty taking pleasure out of this guy's situation.

In way this is a tale of redemption and fresh starts. Here is a man who on the surface had everything, but had tried to fill a large void in his life with increasingly reckless behaviour. That in itself by no means reprieves a man who has done reprehensible things, but it is more indicative of just what a sorry case he really is, despite the material trimmings. Life caught up and his infractions have culminated in this. But there is a yearning for better, an aura of repentance which makes the character so redeemable. Indeed, when he finally gets round to selling all his junk in the yard it is as much a cleansing of those old world reminders as it is of the soul. While it's not exactly sugar coated plums for all by the end, you do get the sense that a great burdon has been lifted from Nick and that he's ready to move on to a hopefully better path in life.

It's refreshing to see Ferrell so restrained, showcasing talents similar to that which made other comedic performers such as Robin Williams so popular. What's doubly impressive is how much compassion and empathy Ferrell is able to earn whilst being almost laconic. He is a man, faulted like the rest of us, yet his quiet introspection and awareness of his infractions makes him such a sympathetic character. The supporting cast aren't half bad either. Kenny (Jordan-Wallace) is a charming overweight kid, displaying both infinite amounts of wisdom and naivety in equal measure, who helps Nick manage his yard. Samantha (Hall), the abandoned pregnant housewife across the street, is saccharinely understanding of his plight, but perhaps their relationship might be a little too Hollywood and out of step with the rest of the film if one was to make a small criticism. Likewise, Peña drops in with a few wisecracks and caustic observations as to Nick's problems, but their relationship feels a little absurd at times.

For a film about a down-on-his-luck alcoholic, Everything Must Go is actually quite a sobering experience. Ferrell's great and it's nice to see that Stranger Than Fiction wasn't just a fluke. However, this is also pretty downbeat and not necessarily the cheeriest thing you'll see all year.