The alcoholic son of an alcoholic, sales manager Nick Porter was born in a Raymond Carver short story called “Why Don’t You Dance?” published in the 1981 Carver collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. The story, which takes place at a yard sale among one man’s stuff and his regrets, has been expanded into Everything Must Go, from debut feature film writer-director Dan Rush. Will Ferrell, mining the minimalist vein he explored in Stranger Than Fiction, does a valiant job in a picture that, admittedly, is only so big and only medium-sharp.
But Ferrell acts opposite the superb Rebecca Hall (as a new and perplexed neighbor in this sunny Scottsdale, Ariz., neighborhood) and Laura Dern (as a long-ago high school chum Nick visits out of the blue). Hall and Dern, among others, bring out something new, and plaintive, in Ferrell. A movie star doesn’t take on a project such as Everything Must Go to make money. A star does it to become a better actor. Ferrell may appear occasionally stifled by the limited dramatic parameters here, yet in flashes we see combinations, traits, contradictions — funny/sad, pathetic/belligerent, watchful/numb — that prove he’s keeping his co-stars on their toes.
It’s the story of a bad day that turns into a five-day blur. Nick gets canned. He comes home, a can of Pabst (one of many to come) in his hand, to find all his belongings on the front lawn. His wife has split.
The neighbor across the street, played by Hall, wonders what’s up. A teenager rides up on a bike and soon he finds himself in Nick’s employ, readying the yard sale that will buy Nick some hang-out time until he determines if he wants to sober up, improve his life, learn a damn thing.
The young actor Christopher Jordan Wallace does fine, quiet work as Nick’s protégé; Michael Pena plays a local cop who’s also Nick’s AA sponsor (not a very good one). Rush respects Carver’s slim, vinegar-tinged story while creating new characters and new (and somewhat artificial) situations. The results go only so far. Yet already Ferrell has come a long way as a seriocomic screen presence, quite apart from the movies that have ensured he can test his mettle on the occasional small-scale challenge on the order of Everything Must Go.
—MCT, Tribune Media Service