Will Ferrell makes a rare foray into serious material in Everything Must Go, and once again proves himself as that rare thing: a primarily comedic actor at home with playing it straight. Like Stranger Than Fiction, another drama with an overly neat conceit, Everything Must Go is let down by creaky plot devices and ultimately easy resolutions. But Dan Rush’s debut feature is also a testament to Ferrell’s ability to be convincingly human onscreen, even when his film’s gentle trajectory fails to stretch him too much.
Based on a Raymond Carver short story, Everything Must Go sees Nick (Ferrell) arrive at work to be fired for an apparent sexual misdemeanour brought on by his drinking problem. Returning home to find that his wife has locked him out of the house, and with all of his belongings packed up outside, he resolves to live among his possessions in public view, pretending to hold the yard sale that, in one of the film’s many convenient plot points, legally allows him to live on his front lawn.
What follows is mostly predictable, with Nick striking up unlikely friendships with a local boy (Christopher Jordan Wallace) and a sympathetic neighbour (Rebecca Hall) who together help him face his demons. The central conceit of Nick having to sell off his possessions in order to be rebuild his life, whilst contrived, isn’t without its charm, and Ferrell’s easy humanity is aided by sympathetic turns by the likes of Jordan Wallace and especially Hall, who plays a woman with problems that mirror Nick’s own with her usual steely vulnerability.
For all the charm of its central idea, though, Everything Must Go’s conceits are ultimately a little too neat. Plot points such as the AA sponsor whose job as a cop helps Nick stay out of trouble, and old flame Laura Dern waiting for him once he deals with his problems, leave the film lacking the messiness of the life that it is earnestly trying to portray. Rush, meanwhile, elects for easy resolutions at every turn, wrapping up Everything Must Go’s various plot strands to leave his characters facing happy futures.
More damningly, Nick’s misdemeanours are alluded to without the despair and misery that surely accompany a life of alcoholism, and redemption seems to come a little too easily in the end. While Ferrell, Hall and Jordan Wallace nobly breathe life into characters that are little more than plot devices, they cannot stop the impact from being feather-light. For a film that preaches giving it all away, Everything Must Go could have done with being a little more bold.