In Everything Must Go, first time writer-director Dan Rush presents an understated examination of how deeply alcoholism affects the lives of those who suffer the disease and those around them. Will Ferrell plays Nick Halsey, a once great salesman and corporate vice-president whose struggle with alcohol has cost him the respect of his peers and, on the
same day, his job and his wife (who, wisely, we never see).
Nick isn’t so much fired as encouraged to voluntarily leave after his recent actions and performance are laid out in detail by his snarky boss, Gary (Glenn Howerton). When he arrives home, after stopping for a case of Pabst, Nick finds all of his belongings on the lawn, the locks to his house changed and a note from his wife saying not to call her. With nothing left to lose, and very little remaining self-respect, Nick sets up camp in his front yard, giving in to defeat.
Nick’s only real friend, Detective Frank Garcia (Michael Pena), informs him that it is illegal to live on his lawn or, as it turns out, to get hammered on cheap beer while sitting in a recliner in his front yard which is as far as Nick’s planning has gotten him.
Slowly, Nick realizes that he has to get things in order and so he enlists the help of Kenny (Christopher Jordan Wallace), a kid who doesn’t seem to have much going on besides riding his bike up and down the street all day. At the same time, Nick develops a tenuous relationship with Samantha (Rebecca Hall), the woman who has moved in across the street and whose husband is nowhere in sight.
As both a writer and a director, Rush is smart enough to know that there have been plenty of heavy-handed movies about alcoholics and the trials they endure. Instead of going down the path of Leaving Las Vegas or When a Man Loves a Woman, Rush focuses on the inner-conflict of Nick and his initial apathetic attitude toward his situation. The film is serious, but has plenty of light-hearted moments which ease the tension of watching a man more obsessed with booze than, well, anything else.
Ferrell is terrific as Nick and plays the character neither for laughs or tears. Nick simply is who he is and Ferrell is perfect as the formerly great man turned loser. There are times, though, when Nick’s inaction and indifference do become frustrating to watch which eventually distance the audience from the character. Ferrell is so likable, though, that he eventually wins out, but some audience members may be turned off altogether.
Hall does a very good job, as always, in the supporting role of sounding board, conscience and, occasionally, punching bag. We never get the sense, though, that her character is there only to serve the story. Samantha has plenty of her own issues going on, of which we get glimpses, but she primarily acts as the one bright spot in Nick’s life that might help spark a sense of motivation.
The heart of the film comes from young Wallace who is the son of late rapper the Notorious BIG. Kenny’s mom works far too much to give him the attention he needs and instead of getting involved with the wrong crowd, as might be expected, he hangs around with a middle-aged alcoholic in hopes of finding a friend or father figure. Kenny is overly quiet through the first part of the film, which makes Wallace’s job fairly easy. Eventually, though, Wallace’s natural charisma comes out as Kenny finds his true calling with Nick’s help.
Some viewers will be annoyed by the film’s slower pace and lack of violent outbursts or moments of destruction which we’ve come to expect from movies dealing with alcoholism. But, Everything Must Go is a very good movie for a first-time filmmaker and is a great platform for Ferrell to try something new but still familiar.
This film runs 97 minutes and is rated R.