Not to be confused with the great, underrated Steely Dan album of the same name, but with some similarity in its theme of personal micro-apocalypse, Everything Must Go is a glum-warm drunk’s tale refreshingly free of Hollywood clichés. The plot elements are bracingly, intentionally spare in this film, which largely takes place on a suburban lawn. A formerly recovering alcoholic (Will Ferrell) loses his cushy corporate sales job and his wife (whom we never meet in the film) just as the opening credits scroll by. Our antihero is locked out of his fine suburban abode and lives with his belongings and furniture on his front lawn. There, he chain-chugs Pabst Blue Ribbon and befriends a young African-American boy (Christopher Jordan Wallace) and a new woman on the block (Rebecca Hall), while hoping against hope that he can regain his wife/life/sobriety/sense-of-purpose. End of story. Beginning of story.
Writer/director Dan Rush bases his tale of woe on the (very) short and fascinating Raymond Carver story “Why Don’t You Dance?” but ever so loosely. While the elements in Carver’s miraculous minimalist tale are there—the drunk’s past life drifting away in a haze of booze and an accidental yard sale representing his life purging—the story is cool to the touch, without the moralizing or sentimentality embedded in the film. No matter. Once we move away from the question of a Carver filter in the film, its palette of artistic virtues is unveiled.
Everything Must Go also marks the point at which droll funnyman Ferrell shows his serious side, with some nuanced, serious acting chops. The transformation is somewhat reminiscent of Bill Murray’s shift from punch lines to laconic, sad-sack wit in films like Lost in Translation and Broken Flowers.
It would be easy to quibble with the film’s wobbly, noncommittal allegiance to both Hollywood feel-good norms and a more artistic vision. David Torn’s rippling snatches of music are filled with emotion, leaving us wishing for a cooler-headed dramatic tone, one closer to that drunkard masterpiece Leaving Las Vegas, or Carver. But Everything Must Go, by virtue of its distinctiveness from other items on the multiplex menu, veers close to being a must-see.