Everything Must Go affords Will Ferrell an opportunity to illustrate that he’s the rare superstar comedian who’s entirely credible as an everyday human being; he can pare his performances of the flamboyancy that characterizes his big-budget comedies without losing his spark or individuality. As Nick, a successful corporate salesman who goes to work one morning to find that he’s lost everything in his life, Ferrell captures, without getting obvious or sentimental, the emasculation of the working-class male who disappoints himself on a daily basis. Ferrell doesn’t condescend to his character as many celebrities self-consciously participating in an indie might; he gives Nick a kind of bruised dignity, allowing you to see that the man knows he’s destroying his life. Nick doesn’t cut himself any slack, and Ferrell’s face—frozen yet somehow startlingly vivid in its resentment—perfectly encapsulates the tone of the Raymond Carver story, “Why Don’t You Dance,” that inspired the film. Ferrell has been great before, particularly in the underrated The Other Guys, but Everything Must Go shows that he can also be great playing variations of his trademark character that’s blinded by the macho disguise he dons out of insecurity.
Director Dan Rush mostly does justice to Ferrell, fleshing out and expanding on the Carver story in conventional ways (which means that every person Nick encounters is meant to somehow teach him a lesson), but the film’s tone is still refreshingly ambiguous and resistant to generalization, allowing the uniformly excellent cast to strike a cautious, searching chord that imbues the film with a melancholy that transcends the pat structure. The film’s confidence and decency are best illustrated by the friendship that Nick strikes up with Kenny (Christopher C.J. Wallace), a black, overweight neighborhood boy who helps him with the task of disposing of his literal and figurative baggage. This scenario, which can and has represented the worst kind of fantasy of racial and generational bonding as well as, by accidental implication, subjugation, is underplayed beautifully here. (Wallace, startlingly self-possessed for his age, is clearly a major find).
Would that the film had kept the Carver story’s potent titular scene, but Rush’s sense of mystery at least manages to honor it. Everything Must Go is a legitimately moving exploration of being lost as a middle American, and the retrospective knowledge that it was undeservedly overlooked only heightens the gentle sadness of watching it.
The image is a little soft and blurry around the edges of character’s faces, but that’s probably an accurate representation of the original print that’s also appropriate to the low-key shagginess of the story. The image is beautiful in the soft golden-brown way that characterizes certain 1970s pictures, and I’m okay with watching a film with an image that hasn’t been cleaned up to the point of looking like a video game. The sound is well-mixed; the voices are in sync as well as in harmony with the lovely modest score.
The audio commentary by writer-director Dan Rush and actor Michael Peña highlights certain preoccupations that clearly informed the film’s strengths, as quite a bit of the conversation pertains to tone and actor motivation. The commentary isn’t essential, but it’s engagingly conversational and lacking in self-congratulatory or in-jokey bull. The behind-the-scenes and "In Character with Will Ferrell" featurettes are fine as these things go, but mostly consist of the usual soundbites that proclaim how wonderful everyone was to work with. The deleted scenes, however, are notable in that a few of them should’ve probably made it into the final cut of the movie, particularly the revealing scene where Nick phones a prostitute who ultimately robs him.
A fine, sad little film receives an okay but undistinguished DVD treatment.