[Our thanks to Shelagh Rowan-Legg for the following review.]
There is a certain subgenre of American film that has evolved over the past 10 years I like to call the Sundance film. It's usually independent (or close to it), written and directed by a man in his mid-30s, about a man in his mid-30s or thereabouts, who is going through a crisis of everything: usually both employment and matters of the heart are in jeopardy, and the main character is left in a strange limbo. The supporting cast usually consists of, a) a child and b) a woman. These supporting characters have their own problems, and they and the main character work together to sort each other out. While there are slight variations on these, the general pattern is predictably the same (think The Station Agent or Cyrus). The film usually gets great critical acclaim, some sort of limited release, and frequently is nominated for a few Oscars (though rarely does it actually win.)
Dan Rush's feature film Everything Must Go fits quite definitely into this category. Based on a story by Raymond Carver, the film focuses on Nick (Will Ferrell), an alcoholic whose most recent antics cost him his job. On his return home, he finds that his wife has changed the locks and had all his belongings moved onto the front lawn. His AA sponsor tells him that he can stay there for five days if he claims he is having a yard sale. As Nick contemplates the increasing futility of his existence while sleeping in his laz-y-boy on the lawn, he befriends a young boy who mother must almost abandon him in order to earn a living, and his new neighbour Samantha, who is waiting to her husband to come to their new home. While Nick spends his days drinking countless beers, he finds quiet moments to teach Kenny (the boy) baseball and the rules of salesmanship, or share Chinese takeout with Samantha while accurately explaining the sad truth of her marriage.
In the midst of such a predictable subgenre, the onus on the writer/director is to make the journey worthwhile, even when the audience knows that is coming. Certainly Carver is one of America's great prose writers, but I don't believe his work transfers well to the screen. The film must rely upon, for the most part, its actors. These films become about the characters, how believable they are, and while they do not necessarily have to be sympathetic, the audience must be able to find something to hold onto. Many directors over the years have cast comedians in dramatic roles, as they seem to have a better sense of timing. Ferrell definitely anchors this film; his subtlety and comedic touches are the good brush strokes on the film's canvas. The audience is meant to maybe feel a little sorry for Nick, but also realize that he has very much dug his own grave and must find a way to fill it in again. As Samantha, Rebecca Hall is not given a great deal to do in most of her scenes, but when she is, she holds her own. And supporting actor Stephen Root, in his few scenes, manages to steal them from Ferrell.
But in the end, the film is a kind of nutritional junk food; it's good for you, but you forget it an hour afterwards. The script is good, the directing is good, and the acting is very good. And perhaps there is a certain comfort in its predictability. The journey of this film is a good one, but not a particularly memorable one.
Review by Shelagh Rowan-Legg
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