Everything Must Go (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
7Sep/110

Everything Must Go (2011)

The curious thing about movies portraying alcoholism is that too many of them go way too far.  Two of the most famous examples, Days of Wine and Roses and The Lost Weekend, suffer from kind of overacting that gives Nicholas Cage his somewhat unwarranted reputation.  Even his film about alcoholism, Leaving Las Vegas, is overwrought with melodrama but manages to work in spite of its sped up funeral dirge for Cage's character.

Despite its other faults, Everything Must Go is one of the most pitch-perfect portrayals of alcoholism I've seen in recent years.  Like it's companion piece, the 1996 Steve Buscemi film Trees Lounge, it understands that most alcoholics aren't cauldron's of rage or violence.  They're just looking to get through the day and the means, sadly, shifts slowly from friends and family and more toward a seemingly limitless supply of alcohol.

The shortcoming of this film, which was not quite the case with Trees Lounge, is in its failure to provide much of a catharsis for Ferrell's Nick Halsey.  By the end of the film I was uncertain as to whether Nick was any better off with the alcohol than without, and considering that prior to the opening scenes he was clean, that fact continues to remain uncertain in spite of the events of the film.  Though many of these sequences and friendships are not without merit, some contribute toward the general confusion and others do not.

A nice friendship, but one that doesn't seem to really strike one or the other as important.

Nick's journey toward cleaning up begins when he arrives home and finds that all of his things have been carefully placed out onto the lawn by his wife (unseen throughout the whole film).  The first of many effectively sad Ferrell moments comes as he is reading her goodbye letter ("Don't call me again") and struggling to explain that he lost his job that very day.  It's one of the sure signs that you're hitting rock-bottom when the best you can do is try to muster up empathy for your condition when there's a clear liquid cause at hand.

So Nick strikes up a friendship with Kenny (Chrisopher Jordan Wallace), a local boy who is wondering about this man left alone to sleep in the lawn.  This is one of the better parts of the movie, as their friendship is based more on practicality (Kenny wants to learn baseball, Nick doesn't want to be alone) then any sort of forced emotional moments.  However the other two friendships aren't as narratively fulfilling.  Nick also talks up a new neighbor (Rebecca Hall), whose absent husband provides Nick with a too easy outlet for commenting on his current situation.  He also deals with Detective Frank Garcia (Michael Pena), a man so close to Nick and his wife that the conclusion of that storyline is as obvious as its introduction.

More fulfilling, and suggesting an intriguing direction the film could have gone in, is in Nick's efforts to reconnect to Delilah (Laura Dern, veteran of many David Lynch films).  He sees her name in his yearbook, recalls fondly how he was a "diamond in the rough" to her, and reaches out.  Her scene is played with such careful tenderness, she recognizing her own loneliness but seeing that Nick is going through a hard patch that, for her own sake, she'd best not get involved with.  The suggestions of her life before, with her own husband leaving, and possibilities afterwards give Nick's story an added dimension of loss without sacrificing Delilah's earned bit of individuality.  She remains such a strong that I wanted to know more about the kind of person that would willingly allow someone this sad and clearly self-destructive back into her life, even if for an afternoon.

It's a shame she's so underwritten, because Rebecca Hall plays her character with a unique strength that only gets fleeting glimpses between the shots of PBR.

Sadly there are few moments of strength in Everything Must Go.  The status quo is "inert".  As in, everything must stay in a flat, nearly affect-less tone from scene to scene with nary a change in sight.  Ferrell is quite good at projecting the depths of his sadness and alcoholism but I would have also preferred to see him heal in some way.  We never really get a glimpse of the man that could possibly sleep with another woman, or of the anger that must have driven him to drinking again.  Instead it's flat scene after lackluster moment of Nick staring dead-eyed into the world, trying to rouse up the courage to buy another drink.

Everything Must Go suffers from staying fixed so firmly to Nick's viewpoint.  Movies about alcoholics are good at this, but rarely take the opportunity to look at their protagonists from the outside (save Trees Lounge).  I liked Nick, but needed someone else's perspective to really understand why his wife or his old coworkers might not.  As such, I'd still like to have a drink with the guy, which runs against what anyone wants for a suffering alcoholic.

Everything Must Go (2011)
Written and directed by Dan Rush.
Based on the short story "Why Don't You Dance?" by Raymond Carver.
Starring Will Ferrell and Christopher Jordan Wallace.

Posted by Andrew

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