Will Ferrell is fading fast. It’s not that his movies don’t make money. I mean, well, Land of the Lost didn’t do so well and no one I know or read fell in love with Deanglo Vickers on The Office. But when he needs a hit, he can get one. His juvenile shtick worked to the tune of more than $100 million for his 2008 hit Step Brothers, and again in 2010 for The Other Guys.
Ferrell doesn’t seem content, though, pumping out his SNL personas. He wants to be seen as a through and through thespian. He first reached out to the dramatic world in 2004 when he teamed with the esteemed Woody Allen for Melinda and Melinda, a light comedy met with tepid reviews and box office totals. No one blamed Ferrell, though. So two years later he branched out again in Stranger Than Fiction. This time his performance was met with almost universal praise, generating a noticeable amount of Oscar buzz (though Ferrell and the film were unfairly ignored by the Academy).
Moviegoers did not match the positive response from critics. Stranger Than Fiction mustered up about a third as much as Ferrell’s next broad comedy, Blades of Glory. He didn’t try to go dramatic again for five years. Did you do the math? Did you see the headlines and pictures above this article? Or do you simply know Ferrell’s career well enough you didn’t need to do the research I just did to know his last movie?
Well, if you haven’t figured it out yet, Ferrell put on his serious face earlier this year in Everything Must Go, a feature length adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story, Why Don’t You Dance. Ferrell plays Nick Halsey, a recovering alcoholic with a good wife (presumably—she’s never shown) and a good job who loses both when he relapses. When he returns home after being fired, he finds all his belongings on his front lawn and the locks changed on his house.
Guess what. The movie tanked. It tanked harder than Halsey on his worst day. Like his comic peer Adam Sandler, Ferrell cannot find a substantial audience who wants to watch him play it straight. No matter the raves he gets from critics, the masses will not come. It’s truly a shame. Ferrell has untapped talent and charisma he’s only just now uncovering thanks to tough roles like these. He really is tremendous here. He can’t save the movie, but he does his part to try. His dead eyed stare and harsh delivery are new additions to his repertoire, and some of his old standbys (the angry outburst, confused eye swivel, etc.) are more than just reined in for this performance. He adjusts them. He tweaks them. They’re signature quirks of Nick Halsey, not Will Ferrell.
Oh, but do you want to know what happened in the movie? I’m sorry. Sometimes I forget that not everyone cares as much about the American moviegoing public and how it reacts to marketing strategies, film plots, and favorite actors playing against type. The majority of Everything Must Go focuses on Nick selling all his earthly possessions (hence the title). He befriends Samantha, a pregnant neighbor (Rebecca Hall), and a young boy (Christopher Jordan Wallace, Notorious B.I.G.‘s kid who had only appeared as a young version of his father in Notorious) along the way, both of whom help tick the movie’s runtime to an acceptable feature length of 97 minutes.
Unfortunately, you can hear the second hand ticking in this thinly scripted actors’ vehicle. Though it feels slow-paced while Nick’s in his front yard, it’s a comfortably measured structure. About halfway through, director and writer Dan Rush takes his character out into the world in an obvious effort to prolong his movie. Nick visits an old high school friend he barely knew then and doesn’t know now in an attempt to find himself. He discovers a secret of his friend and sponsor that complicates the final act. Then there are the many shots of him staring off into space, rearranging his stuff, or sipping his beers.
The throwaway clips of him adjusting to his new lifestyle are useful, but there may be a handful too many. The side stories simply don’t work. They almost ruin the one moment of pure, brave, honesty in the picture. Nick, drunk and relaxed, opens up to Samantha about his latest relapse into alcoholism and a possible tryst with a coworker. She sued him for undisclosed sexual allegations, and as he’s telling the story, you can see him struggling to remember how and what happened. He trails off, and she asks him what happened. Nick replies, “I don’t know.”
It’s not the end of the story, unfortunately, but it was a powerful moment and careful decision by the writer not to clear the lead character of all past discretions. He’s a tough guy to love, and Ferrell and Rush walk that line perfectly. If the rest of the movie was as focused and pure as its central character, it could have been great. Instead, it’s another in a long line of actors showcase pictures with little else to see.
Farrell pops up in the two behind the scenes featurettes, including In Character with Will Ferrell, but not in the audio commentary track by Rush and Michael Pena. The five deleted scenes mainly serve to show the director and editor’s restraint—the film could have been much longer. The extras are as simple and straightforward as the movie, really. Everyone talks about what you want them to talk about, even if it’s not as detailed or revealing as it could be. Still, there are some amusing behind the scenes bits. Fans of Farrell and the film should be satisfied.