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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Everything Must Go (Limited Release Date: 5-13-2011)

        Raise your hand if you though Will Ferrell's career was going to change gears in the wake of Stranger Than Fiction? I sure did. After such silly hits as Old School, Anchorman, and Talladega Nights, it did seem a bit early for such a successful comedian to be making the Jim Carrey/Robin Williams leap over to more serious fare, but there he was, stoic and captivating in Marc Forster's pleasantly twisted Dramedy fable. With Two other nearly unseen examples of his dramatic abilities already behind him (Winter Passing and Melinda and Melinda), he seemed set to move on to something new. Then came Blades of Glory. And Semi-Pro. And Step Brothers. And Land of the Lost. I don't mean to trash on these movies, but after glimpsing Ferrell's varied talents, it was hard not to feel a bit short changed by seeing him recycle the same character over and over again. But, praise the Lord, the scowly version of Ferrell is back, once again stepping away from his laugh-a-minute norm in order to portray a real man going through a cartoonish crisis.

        Nick Halsey (Ferrell) is having the worst day of his life. As the movie opens, we watch him being relieved of his job by some snarky kid behind a big, gaudy desk. After swinging by the local Mart to pick up a Six-Pack of Pabst, Nick returns home to find all of his possessions strewn across his lawn, all the locks to his house changed, and a note on the front door notifying him that his Wife has left for good. Unable to devise of a better solution, Halsey decides to take up residency in his lawn, sleeping in his recliner and rummaging through his belongings. Some of the locals start to take notice, including his newly moved-in neighbor Samantha (Rebecca Hall), and a subdued youth who seemingly has nothing better to do than observe Halsey's various exploits (Christopher Jordan Wallace, aka The Notorious B.I.G.'s kid... no, for real!... cool, right?). A sort of social micro-cosm develops, as Nick tries to figure out how to start putting his life back together.

        Everything Must Go is the feature debut of Writer/Director Dan Rush, but you wouldn't know it from watching. Given the largely impractical premise, based on a Raymond Carver short story entitled Why Don't You Dance?, Rush plays the whole thing with a remarkably straight face, seldom giving in to cheap laughs or cheap sentiments. The pain that Nick feels is never funny; it's real and stinging, brought home by Rush's script's wealth of character development, as well as its reluctance to give easy answers. Impressive as his subtlety and attention to detail might be, Rush nevertheless drops the ball in a few areas. Despite a running time of 96 minutes, the movie feels over-long, at times appearing to uncomfortably stretch itself out in order to be of reasonable feature length. The score, as composed by David Torn, is not only over-baring, but it's featured in nearly every scene of the movie, cheating the flick out of receiving all of the emotional gratification that it deserves.

        But where Rush really shows his skills is in the performances of his actors. Stephen Root, Laura Dern, and Michael Peña all drop in and create vivid characters with hardly any screen time, the believability of the minor players really grounding the movie. Hall is lovely and breezy as always, and some of her encounters with Ferrell are genuinely stirring. Wallace also serves as an extremely pleasant surprise, his deadpan delivery resulting in many if the movie's funnier moments without every blurring the line between character and caricature. But this is truly Ferrell's show; The comedian is in nearly every scene, never anything less than completely believable as a man going though one hell of an existential crisis. As always, it's a bit hard to take him seriously at first, given what his face and voice have come to connote, but it's not long before you realize that the hurt all rings true, and it cuts as deep or deeper than any actor giving a similarly depressed performance could have shown. Everything Must Go proves a worthy showcase for both Ferrell's dramatic chops and Rush's directorial chops, and it seems to point the actor's career in a new direction. Let's just hope we don't have to wait another Five years to see this side of him again.

Grade: B+

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