Will Ferrell knows what he’s doing. The man who has made his name by having little to no shame on Saturday Night Live or in any of his memorable, comedy hall of fame collaborations with director Adam McKay can still surprise an audience. Only in Everything Must Go, the surprises don’t come in the variety of rubber testicles or tiring man-child tirades. That the over-the-top sillyman is starring in a drama is no surprise, either (Stranger than Fiction is a fan favorite of Ferrell’s). It’s that he found a decent charater and absolutely nailed it. Credit to newcoming writer/director Dan Rush for this pleasantly ugly little character study, but more so to his leading man, an accomplished, celebrated comedic figure acting like he’s really got something to prove.
Nick Halsey (Ferrell) has the ultimate post-2008 bad day when a culmination of his high expense as a tenured employee of a sales agency, his history of alcoholism, and accusations of an affair sends him home early from work without a job, only to find all of his possessions scattered about his lawn. The locks at his home have been changed, his accounts have been frozen, his company car has been repossessed, and his cell phone has been deactivated. All that’s left is the cash in his wallet, a lawn full of heaps of nicknacks, unused sporting equipment, his father’s vinyls, and a few cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon. When police get a complaint from neighbors that Nick has been living on his front lawn, he’s given three more days to both figuratively and literally get his stuff together.
Quite literally, Nick has no option but to leave everything on display. He sleeps in a recliner amongst his things, where all can see how bad it is. When Nick tells his neighbor across the street to have blinds installed in her empty new house, it’s so she won’t have to constantly look at her future. He is the new American stress dream: put out on his ass by his longtime employers to accommodate the harsh economic climate and left with nothing but his accumulation of stuff for late-night vultures to pick from and those decent enough to give the man a hand. Among those is The Town‘s Rebecca Hall as a pregnant new neighbor and Christopher Jordan Wallace, a young man without many more companions than Nick but with a far brighter future. Ferrell riffs off of both Hall and Wallace to equally comedic and dramatic effects. His drunk yet earnest admissions to Hall about his muddied past along with his mentoring of Wallace make him a more relatable character than Ferrell has ever touched.
He’s severely flawed—Nick is a temperamental loner who doles out painfully crafted stabs of cynicism—but though we never get the opportunity to see his marriage play out, we know he’s a good man. It’s no shock when moments make us laugh. Haggling over a quarter for the price of a half-used bottle of mouthwash, Ferrell’s in familiar and satisfying comedic territory. Destructively begging for free beer from a convenience store clerk or vulnerably pleading with a yuppie boss, he’s in waters that the fine actor hasn’t given himself enough credit to test more often, and he passes.