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Will Ferrell plays melancholic in Everything Must Go
Man in collapse

Ferrell downplays the laughs.
Ferrell downplays the laughs.
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Recall Adam Sandler's impressive dramatic turn in Punch-Drunk Love. Like that film, Everything Must Go is a drama starring a Saturday Night Live alumnus (Will Ferrell) in a role that's less funny than it is melancholic. There's an SNL-specific subgenre working itself out here: the dramatic farce. Bill Murray did it first with The Razor's Edge and again with Lost in Translation. All three comics carry about them a certain air of the man-child, but so far only Murray has mastered the man and relegated the child to a lesser aspect of his persona.

Adapted from a Raymond Carver story, Everything Must Go is a portrait of a man in collapse. Middle-aged and sporting a demi-paunch, salesman Nick Halsey (Ferrell) has just been fired for alcoholic shenanigans on the job. Returning to his suburban home, he discovers his wife has piled his belongings in the yard and set him adrift. So he pulls up his La-Z-Boy, cracks a 12-pack and drops out entirely, living, sort of, on his front lawn.

Ferrell's work is impressive; there are comic moments throughout, but he downplays them until they become cringe moments. The title comes from the lawn sale Nick initiates with the help of a neighborhood kid (Christopher Jordan Wallace), prompted by a cop and former Alcoholics Anonymous buddy played by Michael Peña. Two women enter Nick's anti-life: a new neighbor (Rebecca Hall), pregnant and awaiting the arrival of an absent significant other, and an old high school classmate played unerringly by Laura Dern.

Everything Must Go isn't a comedy, but it's not entirely a tragedy, either, and it straddles this razor's edge with aplomb. There's redemption to be had here, somewhere, but Nick's got to pull his head out of the Keystone Light before he can find the key or the light.

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