While too mild and unoriginal to deliver the compelling mix of dark-comic bite and resonant sadness that its premise hints at, “Everything Must Go” succeeds nicely as a lighter brand of pleaser.
As its self-destructing protagonist sells off his material goods for beer money and slowly realizes his deeper assets thanks to a few fine neighbors, the movie’s gentle nature and appealing performances offset the cliches and result in an embraceable human-connection story.
Writer-director Dan Rush, making his feature debut, has expanded Raymond Carver’s short story “Why Don’t You Dance?” into a 96-minute dramedy, combining unhurried indie pacing with conventional storytelling and sweetening Carver’s tone.
The setting is Phoenix, doubling as any U.S. suburb. The story opens on a really bad day for salesman Nick Halsey (Will Ferrell), who gets fired for an alcoholic episode and discovers his wife has changed the locks and tossed his belongings onto the lawn.
With his credit-card access zapped, Nick figures he’ll live in his recliner on the lawn for a spell — a scenario he can legally pull off only if he holds a yard sale. So he begins selling his possessions and dumping his inner baggage along with it.
Interactions with two neighbors — a bored kid named Kenny (Christopher Jordan Wallace) and pregnant photographer Samantha (Rebecca Hall) — keep Nick and the story afloat.
Neither Rush nor Ferrell are dark, deep or unusual enough to enable this movie to triumph as a seriocomic sparkler. Rush’s story is basically that of the sinking protagonist who finds salvation through a good woman and a deserving kid. At times, it seems as though Ferrell is awkwardly cast in a sad-sack Bill Murray role.
Yet Rush, like director Tom McCarthy (“Win Win”), has an appealing human touch, and if he overdoes the uplift, he keeps characters and situations credible and engaging.
Whatever his shortcomings may be dramatically, Ferrell, in tune with Rush’s low-key style, nails the comedy. (“Can this happen on another day?” is the impeccably delivered phone message Ferrell’s Nick leaves for the wife who has evicted him.)
Among the supporting cast, Wallace’s naturalness and Hall’s decency supply a positive tone that make viewers believe Nick could be transformed.
Also aboard are Michael Pena as Nick’s AA sponsor and a superb Laura Dern as Nick’s former classmate. The closure, while predictably hopeful, avoids the ridiculously sunny, and, like much of what precedes it, contains winning emotional spark. All said, there’s nothing monumental, but Rush has made an impressive debut and an enjoyable movie.
Starring Will Ferrell, Christopher Jordan Wallace, Rebecca Hall and Michael Pena
Written and directed by Dan Rush
Running time 1 hour 36 minutes