I talk a lot about expectations and how they play into our opinions of the movies we see – overhyping making you think a film is worse than it might be, the collective trashing of a film leading you to believe that all those numbskulls were off their rocker – The Happening wasn’t that bad (yes it was). But what happens when you go into a film not with a collected set of feelings towards the movie you’re about to see, but expecting some thing to happen – a definable trait, a particular mode of acting, an action (or collection of actions) that you’ve been trained to be ready for over the course of several films?
Such is the case with Everything Must Go. Will Ferrell plays Nick Halsey – quasi-successful salesman, husband, homeowner…and alcoholic. We learn early on that Nick’s had a rough patch lately, culminating in the situation that drives the film: he arrives home from work one day to find the baggage in his life right out there for all his neighbors to see. Literally – all of his belongings have been tossed into his front yard by his exasperated wife; she’s had it with him, dumping his stuff on the lawn, changing the locks and ditching that popcorn stand with not so much as a Dear, John letter tacked to the front door.
How Nick actually proceeds to deal with the blows his behavior has dealt him is the crux of the drama, but there’s that thing always waiting, lurking, hanging in the balance and in the back of your mind. While the plot is set up rather quickly, so is the tone – we know fairly early on that this is not Step Brothers or Wedding Crashers. This is a serious film with serious acting and serious consequences; perhaps not on the Leaving Las Vegas variety, but not far from there, either. But while I commend Ferrell for taking the role – we do love it when our clowns take off their makeup and put on the sad mask, after all – I couldn’t shake this feeling of anticipation the whole time. I was waiting…and waiting…for Drunk Will Ferrell to show up. You know the guy – Frank the Tank! Running down the street naked! Shot with a horse tranquilizer, stumbling around a child’s birthday party! The fun guy – that man childliest of man children.
But, of course, Frank never shows up. He and his good-time happy drunk cinematic cousins are nowhere to be found, because Everything Must Go isn’t about the good times. It’s about the path of destruction that being an alcoholic can bring, and the relief effort embodied by second chances. Nick has to chip away at his life brick-by-brick before coming to his moment of clarity – to see the patterns of not only his own behavior but those established before he was born.
Whether or not you sympathize or antipathize with Nick and his situation will likely factor heavily into your interpretation of Everything Must Go. First-time feature director Dan Rush has made a fairly straightforward message movie about second (and third and fourth) chances, so if you find your patience for alcoholics running thin on the day you watch it, you’ll likely not care what happens to Nick so long as people like him stay away from you. But as up front as the film can be about its intentions, I can’t deny that it’s an appealing character study with a meandering, dreamlike quality to the proceedings that gives you the impression that you don’t know where it’s going, even if you’re pretty sure you do.
Bonus! Everything Must Go was filmed practically in my backyard here in Scottsdale, Arizona, with the vast majority of the action taking place on a neighborhood street, with the exterior of two houses (Nick’s and that of Rebecca Hall’s character) being the main locations. So, after seeing it, I did some investigative work, found out where they were and had to drive by and take some pics.