Much like Adam Sandler in Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love, Will Ferrell's performance in the new indie drama Everything Must Go isn't a case of playing against type as much as tweaking it.
Adapted from the Raymond Carver short story "Why Don't You Dance," this first feature from writer-director Dan Rush casts Ferrell in a role that might the realistic flipside to his over-the-top Old School character, the drunk Frank the Tank.
Here Ferrell is Nick Halsey, a relapsing alcoholic who returns home after getting fired from his corporate job to find his belongings on the front lawn, the locks changed, and his wife gone. Soon he finds the couple's joint banking and credit card accounts cancelled too.
Nick takes up residence in the front lawn, sitting in an easy chair, working his way through six packs, and odd sight that catches the sympathetic but cautious eye of a new neighbor, a pregnant woman (played by Rebecca Hall) awaiting the delayed arrival of her husband.
Before long, Nick decides to turn his eviction into a yard sale, a high-concept gambit that provides the film's title and literalizes the notion of "taking inventory" of one's life. One item that pops up is an old high-school yearbook, which contains a now-poignant inscription from a former female classmate that provokes Nick to track her down. The woman, now a struggling single mom, is played, beautifully, by Laura Dern in a striking cameo doesn't go quite where most viewers will expect it to.
The Dern cameo fits a muted, effective drama nailed in place by a couple of subtle character revelation depth charges that arrive late and reorient the viewer's perspective on Nick and the film.
Ferrell finds a perfect balance here between letting his comedic bent tease out the absurdity of the situation while still playing the role straight.
Everything Must Go
Opening Friday, May 13th