Featuring a strong central performance from Will Ferrell, but ultimately lacking the bite of previous Raymond Carver adaptations, nominally Short Cuts (1993) and Jindabyne (2006), this is the second incarnation of the story, having already been made into the short film Everything Goes (2004) by Australian filmmaker Andrew Kotatko with Hugo Weaving and Abbie Cornish. It’s a meandering film, that whilst comfortably entertaining offers little that’s unexpected, bearing a resemblance to a neutered Bad Santa (2003) in its portrayal of alcoholic Nick Halsey, forced to live on his lawn for a week when his (unseen) wife kicks him out the house for sleeping with a colleague on a business trip, changing all the locks and dumping his furniture and belongings in the street.
Having just been fired for drinking on the job, Nick finds he has nowhere to go and so arranges his furniture as a kind of living room on his lawn, refusing to budge when the neighbours call the cops. Luckily his AA sponsor is a police detective (Michael Peña), who tells him the only way he can legally stay out there is by holding a yard sale, which he’s allowed to do for no more than five days, after which he must go. Go where, we’ve no idea, but as he takes stock of his life by itemising and pricing up his possessions to sell, he starts on the predictable road to recovery and self-discovery, helped along by local kid Kenny (Biggie Smalls’ son Christopher Jordan Wallace) and pregnant neighbour Samantha (Rebecca Hall), who take on the role of a surrogate family for Nick.
It’s certainly a tonal departure for Ferrell, offering even more of a straight role than his previous flirtations (Melinda and Melinda, Stranger Than Fiction), but his character here is somewhat overwritten, providing behavioural explanations and cod-psychological insight in place of ambiguities, particularly when explaining the (date rape?) scenario to Hall that led to his living on the lawn. We’re not invited to sympathise with him necessarily in his actions or alcoholism, but we are asked to take pity and assume that whilst he’s clearly made mistakes, he’s ultimately a good person (cringingly reiterated in a cameo from Laura Dern). It’s all very Californian in its attitude to addiction and recovery, epitomised in his relationship with Peña, and the cynic in me found the ease of his redemption and personal change of direction a far cry from that of say Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend (1945) or Peter Mullan in My Name Is Joe (1998).
It’s a conventional film, conforming to a picture of middle-aged malaise in suburbia familiar from countless other ‘independent’ American comedy dramas and whilst the dialogue is occasionally nuanced, it’s invested with an unearned weight of delivery that thinks itself more profound and affecting than it really is. Dan Rush’s direction is flat and uninteresting, and the film feels much longer than its 96 minute running time, especially frustrating when the film continues on past its more logical conclusion. It’s very much a vehicle for Ferrell, clearly keen to show some range outside of his more zany comedic efforts, and whilst perhaps successful in that respect, offers little else to raise it out of mediocrity.
Everything Must Go – 2010 – USA – 96 mins – Dir : Dan Rush
Screening as part of the Film On The Square strand of the London Film Festival on Friday 15th, Sunday 17th & Monday 18th October. Tickets available at www.bfi.org.uk/lff