Friday, May 20, 2011

Yard Retail Therapy

Anyone who has seen 2003's Lost in Translation remembers the sheer power of Bill Murray's performance. Rightfully nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of aging actor Bob Harris (and arguably more deserving than Mystic River's Sean Penn, who took home the prize), Murray's work was remarkable not only for its total brilliance but by the audacity of the man who played it for laughs in Ghostbusters and Caddyshack to take on such a serious role. Such seems completely out of place in that regard, but Murray is far from the first comedian to tackle such a part. Robin Williams, for instance, received acclaim for Good Will Hunting and One Hour Photo, while Dan Ackroyd received praise and an Academy Award nom for his role in Driving Miss Daisy. Murray might be the best of the bunch however, and recent years have seen a good number of copycat comedians in fiery dramatic roles, from Adam Sandler (Punch Drunk Love) to Steve Carrell (Little Miss Sunshine) to Ben Stiller (Greenberg) to Maya Rudolph (Away We Go) to Murray again (Broken Flowers), all trying to capture that same level of drama to be taken seriously in the big leagues, and not just dismissed as "comedic" performers. At first glance, that seems to be the impetus behind Everything Must Go, the rated R drama written and directed by newcomer Dan Rush based on the story story Why Don't You Dance by Raymond Carver and starring funny man Will Ferrell as a depressed alcoholic. Let the Oscar talk begin? Let's see.

Don't everybody rush in or anything...
Arizona resident Nick Halsey (Ferrell) is having a bad day. In fact, calling it a "bad day" is selling it short by a few magnitudes. After several months sober, the recovering alcoholic suffered a relapse while on a Denver business trip. This relapse, of which Nick has no significant memory, resulted in not only his job termination but, upon arriving at his home, finding that his wife has left, changed the locks and dumped all of his possessions on the front lawn. Unable to even enter his own house, Nick lives on the lawn among his prized belongings, but when he finally decides for a change, he sells off everything he has for a fresh start, helped by a young boy (Christopher Jordan Wallace) and the new neighbor Samantha (Rebecca Hall), who is waiting for her own spouse to arrive from New York for his new job.

Indie film requirement "cute kid": met

A far cry from the usual Farrell vehicle, Everything Must Go doesn't feature any outlandish hijinks, crazy characters, or stupid jokes that have made modern classics of films Anchorman, The Other Guys and Old School. The recipient of a generous dose of heart and sincerity, this film remains at all time in a state of realism, especially in its portrayal of the modern Scottsdale suburb and the people who live there. There is a bit of dark humor present, but there are no wooden pistols or "Sex Panther" to draw cheap laughs or otherwise marginalize the seriousness of the story. It would be difficult to find too much humor in unemployment, narcotic dependency and divorce, and while I don't doubt Farrell would give it a shot were he offered a chance, the film we have instead is sweet and smart, its emotional struggles the film's most obvious storytelling strength.

Trying to find a polite way to get out of this particular review
It may feel odd to imagine Ferrell in this kind of role; the former Saturday Night Live star an unusual inclusion in so subtly told a film. However, Ferrell outdoes many of his contemporaries and proves that he can actually ACT, as opposed to merely playing convincing caricatures. Farrell's schlubby looks have often been used in the past as a self-deprecating measure, but here they allow him to actually melt into his damaged persona. That's not to say I think that Ferrell looks like a long-time alcoholic, just that he resembles one more than Brad Pitt. That's only half the story, however; Ferrell manages to tell so much of the film's story through his expressions and mannerisms that you have to ask yourself: "Where did THAT come from??" We all love his impressions of former President George Bush or Alex Trebek, but never did we think he had it in him to so convincingly play Nick, a REAL person going through REAL shit. He's simply a treat to watch, and easily the best part of the film. Secondary characters do all right as well, especially Christopher Jordan Wallace as a young boy who looks up to Nick as a pseudo father figure. Rebecca Hall is okay (though not as good as she had been in 2010's The Town) as Nick's new pregnant neighbor who ends up being his biggest ally. Stephen Root, Michael Pena and Laura Dern play relatively big parts, but don't end up doing too much and are mostly forgettable fillers despite their generally higher talent levels.

No, we pretty much just see the suburbs... I KNOW
That's the problem with Everything Must Go as a whole. There's a lot presented to consider, but the film gets a little too inside itself to really let the audience in. This can mostly be heaped on Rush, as the writer/director obviously doesn't have the experience to know when enough is enough. I'll compare it to the 2009 Hollywood darling Precious, which was a tumultuous, emotional and sobering film... until the story just got so ridiculous that it completely jumped the shark and lost my investment as a viewer. Everything Must Go might not be that extreme, but so much of the film is seeing Nick sink deeper and deeper until he finally hits rock bottom, by which point we've been waiting since forever for the film's final act to rear its head. To tell the truth, the story's formula might have worked better as a made-for-TV film or miniseries, as there simply isn't enough to pad into a complete full-length film. The ideas are there; they just couldn't be pulled off by this particular helmsman in Rush.

The first step is to admit that you have a problem...
When all is said and done, Everything Must Go is a mediocre film with a few interesting ideas and an unexpectedly outstanding performance by its leading man. Is Ferrell's performance on par with that of Murray? No, it's not even close, but that's a fairly high bar to reach in any rate. Ferrell does outpace many of his predecessors, and I wouldn't be surprised to see his name bandied about come award season, though he's unlikely to bring anything home (also, watch in disdain as the Golden Globes plug him in the comedy/musical category). I don't recommend that you see this film in the theaters, but you might reward yourself in a few months when the rental comes out. Will Ferrell will keep.

1 comment:

The Opinioness of the World said...

Will Ferrell's acting abilities should come as no surprise as he was great in the bittersweet 'Stranger Than Fiction.'