A lot of Will Ferrell’s recent political stuff has pissed me of, I confess, and I wasn’t expecting fireworks out of Everything Must Go, his latest movie which is about a man who comes home from work after being fired only to find all his stuff out on his lawn.
I figured this would be a semi-serious screwed-up-guy-gets-a-chance-to-redeem-himself movie, but about five minutes in we discover that Ferrell’s drinking binge is what cost him his job and his wife, which puts this squarely into the “alcoholic” genre.
Now, alcoholic movies can really only go one of two ways. The guy either reforms or he drinks himself to death, and nobody makes a comedy out of a guy drinking himself to death (which isn’t to say some people don’t laugh uproariously all the way through Leaving Las Vegas). You also know that the 2nd act climax has gotta be a drinking binge or something really close to that.
So, right away, you know the shape of the movie.
Which, of course, isn’t the point at all.
Do you like Will Ferrell, is the question? This is an hour-and-a-half of Will Ferrell. Not Anchorman Will Ferrell, though, more like Stranger Than Fiction Will Ferrell. He’s funny, but not in a way that undermines the drama. He’s likable but he has an arrogant streak. It’s a tough balance, but he pulls it off.
Ferrell’s main companion during his journey is a chubby black boy whose mother (we never see) is a hospice care worker that leaves him to ride his bike around the neighborhood while she works. The actor (Christopher Jordan Wallace) does a good job here, playing off Ferrell without being cloying or sassy, and generally avoiding the worst of the clichés.
Rebecca Hall plays the pregnant across-the-street neighbor who watches Ferrell’s meltdown, and Michael Pena is his sponsor/police detective friend who buys him a few more days on the lawn while his uptight neighbors (including character great Stephen Root) want to roust him.
Ultimately this worked for me because I like Will Ferrell (dammit!). He manages to be likable even when he’s being a jerk, and he always looks like he regrets it. It’s hard not to root for the guy, which is critical for this kind of movie.
That said, I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone. Ferrell’s constantly got a beer in his hand, which hangs a constant heaviness over the proceedings, such that the funny parts can never get too funny. (By contrast, see Blake Edwards’ Skin Deep, where John Ritter does pratfalls and penis jokes. Blake Edwards was the master of tackling difficult subjects with slapstick without cheapening the subjects. And also, as with S.O.B., of injecting dark humor suddenly into a light subject.)
Another element is that the premise of the movie itself—that Ferrell must shed himself of worldly goods to achieve enlightenment—is not really substantiated. You could argue that Ferrell was using his possessions to not not confront his alcoholism, but it’s not a position the movie makes very well. You could say they were representative, say of his emotional baggage, but that’s sort of heavy-handed (all the more because the movie makes the connection at times).
But it does manage to be serious without being depressing and completely without humor.
The Boy approved, though he also thought it would be a little less serious.