Raymond Carver crafted some of the most precise and delicate short stories of the late 20th Century, evoking a depth emotion and understanding with an economy of words that few could match. Trying to tease a feature-length film out of a 1600-word masterpiece is no easy feat.
But writer-director Dan Rush’s “Everything Must Go” largely succeeds in bringing to life Carver’s “Why Don’t You Dance?” The film stars Will Ferrell as Nick Halsey, a man who gets laid off from his job because of his drinking, and upon arriving at home finds that his wife has thrown all his things on the front lawn, changed the locks, and moved out. So Nick does what any sensible man would, he cracks a beer, sits down in his easy chair and has a five-day yard sale.
Ferrell, a man who’s never been afraid to play it broad, restrains himself, bringing to Nick the appropriate balance of despair, fatigue, humor and anger. Ferrell was gave a great dra-medic turn in “Stranger Than Fiction,” and here he goes even darker, but without making you feel like your having to endure a comedian’s “serious phase” (See: Williams, Robin; Carrey, Jim). Ferrell plays a washed out regional sales manager, with the occasion whiff of Ron Burgundy peeking through, without ever taking over.
The supporting cast is a who’s-who of underappreciated talents: Michael Pena as Nick’s AA sponsor, Stephen Root as the tut-tutting neighbor (with some pretty steep predilections of his own); and Rebecca Hall, as the pregnant newlywed who’s just moved in across the street--each is typically excellent.
But it’s Nick’s relationship with Kenny, played by Christopher Jordan Wallace (son of the late rapper Notorious BIG) that’s at the center of the film. Kenny spends his days alone, biking up and down the street, while his mother cares for an elderly women. Kenny and Nick are drawn to each other by their shared solitude.
Not surprisingly, the film falls flattest when it strays furthest from the source. You can almost feel Rush straining to get Nick’s story past the 80-minute mark. A detour to visit a long lost high school friend feels forced and improbable, and the betrayal revealed toward the end of the film is unnecessary.
But Rush is to be commended for expanding upon Carver’s story as well as he does. More than a snapshot of a man fighting a losing battle, “Everything” delves into the, the ways in which we are all damaged and the desperate lies we tell to hide those wounds. And he manages to find the humor in the story with making light of it.