If Will Ferrell’s charisma is directly proportional to his absurdity, then it’s little surprise that he fares relatively poorly as a sad sack in Everything Must Go, writer-director Dan Rush’s indie of individual collapse and reconstitution. Not dissuaded by Stranger Than Fiction, the actor’s last foray into cutesy dramedy, Ferrell again assumes the guise of an everyman in crisis, in this case Nick, who on a single day is fired from his job for repeated alcoholism-related troubles (including a vaguely defined sexual-harassment accusation), and then returns home to find that his wife has changed the locks and alarm codes and dumped his possessions on the front lawn.
These twin catastrophes drive Nick to fall even further off the wagon, downing cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon while sitting outdoors in a brown leather recliner, indifferent to the condescension of his neighbors’ sideways glances or the advice of his AA sponsor, detective Frank (Michael Peña). With his company car repossessed and his credit cards and bank accounts cancelled, Nick is a man adrift, and thus a perfect candidate for unlikely redemption, which Brown’s tale (based on Raymond Carver’s short story “Why Don’t You Dance?”) creakily begins building toward in the form of two unexpected friends for its protagonist: at-loose-ends overweight kid Kenny (Christopher Jordan Wallace) and pregnant across-the-street neighbor Samantha (Rebecca Hall).
With a tag sale his only viable course of action, Nick sets about coming to grips with “letting go” of his stuff and his past baggage. Having established its thuddingly neat-and-tidy titular metaphor, however, Everything Must Go proceeds to go nowhere daring, inventive, or emotional, with its narrative remaining on a comfortably superficial, innocuous middle ground between goofy humor and wrenching pathos. Brown holds his audience’s hand by first dramatizing, and then having characters overtly expound on, the fact that Nick’s neighbors are as screwed up as he is (only behind closed doors), and that Nick is a future version of Samantha should she continue down her own rocky marital path.
Uncomplicated conventionality renders just about every sentiment false, while Ferrell’s morose routine—unlike Adam Sandler’s straight-faced explorations of his comedic persona’s underlying anger—seems disconnected from his trademark ridiculousness. From Nick’s incessant boozing, which is never depicted as severe enough to have engendered such monumental repercussions, to his safely platonic relationship with Samantha, his therapeutic ballplaying with Kenny, and his ultimate anger at Frank, Rush’s film does everything in its power to have its fall-then-rise saga go down as smoothly and easily as possible. It’s the cinematic incarnation of the color beige.