Great comics always yearn to show their range by doing more serious work, and Will Ferrell is no exception. That explains his decision to play Nick Porter, the morose, hopeless loser of Dan Rush’s expansion of Raymond Carter’s short story “Why Don’t You Dance?” Actually even for a non-fan like me it’s always a pleasure to endure Ferrell’s presence in something other than “Land of the Lost” or his recent misbegotten episodes of “The Office,” but “Everything Must Go” proves too slender a conceit to matter much.
As the movie opens, Porter’s fired from his salesman job because of an alcohol-fueled assault on a woman and returns home to his suburban Phoenix house to find the locks changed and all his belongings on the lawn. He also discovers that his wife has cancelled all his credit cards, so he’s effectively broke.
Rather than moving on, Porter camps out on the lawn, spending most of his time in a recliner. When the police show up, he calls his AA sponsor Frank (Michael Pena), a cop himself, to help, and gains a temporary reprieve by claiming to be holding a yard sale. The narrative’s filled out with a couple of ancillary plot threads. One involves Nick’s growing friendship with Kenny Loftus (Christopher Jordan Wallace), a black kid whom he hires to help him sell his stuff, and with Samantha (Rebecca Hall), a photographer from the east who’s moving in across the road. There’s also a brief episode in which Porter seeks out a high-school classmate, Delilah (Laura Dern), whose comment in a yearbook he’s come upon while rifling through the volume.
This is obviously a slim scenario that, even with Rush’s considerable additions, seems more suited to a short story than a feature film. And while the finished product boasts its share of mildly amusing and poignant moments—which Ferrell plays with the same sort of hangdog reticence he brought to “Stranger Than Fiction,” and quite effectively—it ultimately feels thin. There’s an inevitable sense of padding, particularly in the threads involving Kenny and Samantha though they’re decently calibrated, and even the short sequence with Dern, while probably the most compelling in the film, doesn’t come across as natural. A last-act turn involving Frank doesn’t ring true either, seeming more a writer’s contrivance.
That doesn’t mean “Everything Must Go” is a bad movie; it has its share of affecting moments, and Ferrell tones down his manic quality while using his puffy, dough-boy body effectively to suggest a man more used to lethargy than action. The supporting cast is fine, though Wallace frankly seems more an agreeable amateur than anything else. Despite his name, Rush adopts a deliberate pace that suits the story of a man virtually stopped in the water, but still manages to keep the narrative moving forward. And the production crew makes the most of a clearly limited budget.
But it is a picture that, while mildly interesting and sporadically amusing, doesn’t manage to use Carver’s story as a springboard for something really remarkable. It’s the sort of movie that’s agreeable enough, but won’t stick with you.