In Everything Must Go, based on the short story ‘Why Don’t You Dance?’ by Raymond Carver, Will Ferrell stars as Nick Halsey, an alcoholic salesman who, having lost his job and wife on the same day, finds all of his belongings strewn on the lawn. Soon, he forms a tentative bond with a lonely, overweight neighbourhood kid, and resolves to stage a 5-day yard sale in front of his house, initially borne of a bloody-minded obstinacy to stay put, and eventually to purge his demons and advance tentatively toward a new beginning.
The key themes of memories, loss and new starts are nothing new for an American indie, and neither are the burnished, gentle tones of the cinematography, insistent bursts of sad acoustic guitar or drifting evocations of suburban disquiet and disillusionment. There is a gentle humour at work, occasionally tinged by a more scabrous edge; one explicit yet incongrous scene pitches for Lynchian suburban hell, but just feels wrong.
Laura Dern, appearing and appealing in one scene, is underused, and Rebecca Hall’s lonely, pregnant new neighbour is really used as little more than a device to bring us to the conclusion that Ferrell’s egregious externalisation is a mere variation on the rest of the world’s desire to keep their troubles behind closed doors.
The melancholy vibe, however, is pervasive and Ferrell, with his sad eyes, furrowed brow and gently imposing presence, gives the film real heart. With his relentless drinking, morally questionable past and salesmanship patter, he appears to have walked in from Steely Dan’s world of dissolute drifters, lapsed family men, addicts and schemers; a Deacon Blues or Cousin Dupree for our times. I wouldn’t be surprised if the film’s title has been taken straight from the sardonic duo’s 2003 album.
Gentle, absorbing and entertaining, Everything Must Go is a promising debut for writer-director Dan Rush, and well worth a watch.
Everything Must Go is in cinemas now. A version of this review first appeared in PPH coverage of the 54th BFI London Film Festival in October 2010.