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By Elias Savada | May 12, 2011

Just because Will Ferrell’s new film is rated “R,” don’t rush in expecting one of his patented broad comedies like “Anchorman” or “Talladega Nights.” This better-than-average indie effort—a first feature from Dan Rush, an accomplished commercial director—is a dramatic change-of-pace for the former SNL star and a co-founder of the successful comedy website “Funny or Die.” It’s not the first time that the talented actor, writer, and impressionist has gone serious. On film there was 2006’s offbeat, subdued comedy-drama “Stranger Than Fiction” (which earned him a Golden Globe nomination), and two years ago he tackled Broadway with the seriously funny (and lewd) Emmy-nominated show “You’re Welcome America. A Final Night with George W. Bush.”

With “Everything Must Go,” Ferrell sardonically narrates and sullenly stars as Nick Halsey, a down-on-his-luck, sad sack businessman who loses his wife and his job in the course of a day in the life of an alcoholic fool. Shuffling through life in the Arizona sunshine, he guzzles Pabst Blue Ribbon (4.74% ABV) as he tries to salvage a seemingly ruined life—on the front lawn of the suburban house where his estranged wife has tossed all his earthly goods. (The title is derived from a presumed yard sale he must have or face consequences from the authorities.) Locked out of his home, his bank and credit cards frozen, and his company car repossessed by his pissed-off former boss (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”‘s Glenn Howerton), the film covers Nick’s fall from grace and semi-Phoenix-like rise from his dreary existence (hmmm, was that why it was filmed in that city?). An overweight kid with low self esteem and a pretty-and-pregnant new neighbor help turn his life around. Youngster Christopher Jordan Wallace, a.k.a. the son of the late rapper Notorious B.I.G., plays Kenny with an understated honesty, a boy who bicycles into Nick’s life and learns business and baseball lessons from his new, older friend, while Rebecca Hall (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”) encompasses her role as New York transplant, photography teacher, and neighborhood newcomer Samantha with friendly advice in exchange for some Chinese take-out and some gut-wrenching life advice from the man on the lawn across the street.

Nick’s condescending next door neighbor Elliot (Stephen Root) shakes his head in disgust “I saw this coming a mile away.” In this, and other, situations, director-writer Rush imbues Nick with a gallows humor philosophy that suggests there will be sun behind the main character’s storm clouds. “Thanks for warning me,” he wanly responds. While the film is small, it’s basic three-person story brings out some heartfelt comments on the larger human condition, with a few smart comic winks tossed in to keep it from being a downer like “Leaving Las Vegas,” the painfully depressing 1995 Mike Figgis melodrama about an an alcoholic’s battle with his problems. Actually Nick never seems to slur his words despite the constant inflow of canned brews.

Nick, who seems to have nowhere to go and no way to get there, props up his life with additional support from his sponsor, police detective Frank Garcia (Michael Peña). But Nick didn’t get his (now former) position as a vice president in a large corporation without some business or street (or yard) sense and that will ultimately reveal that not all your friends have your best interests at heart.

Life as a lawn ornament has its rewards (for some, the bounty might be an autographed baseball, for others, old issues of Playboy magazine), but for Nick it’s the sweet sound of vinyl records (remnants of his father’s public disk jockey career, not his dad’s private alcoholic and abusive demons) that has the promise to keep Nick’s evil spirits at bay. The promising note of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” may be a tad hokey, but Rush’s first film follows previous dramas that have unearthed strong, serious talent behind comedians like Ferrell who have found the urge to move beyond the laughter they induce. Ferrell’s not yet in the same award-winning league as Jim Carrey, Robin Williams, or Mo’Nique, among others, but he wears subdued tenderness and sympathy well. Fame and fortune, as a serious dramatic actor, should follow.

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  1. Elias Savada says:

    Review written by Elias Savada.

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