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PostPosted: Sat Jun 11, 2011 11:11 am 
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WILL FERRELL IN EVERYTHING MUST GOI

More must go

Will Farrell stars in Everything Must Go, a movie adapted from a Raymond Carver story, about an alcoholic man who gets fired from his job and then goes home and finds his wife has left him and dumped all his stuff on the lawn locking him out. This is a first feature for director Dan Rush and co-stars young Christopher Jordan Wallace as a plump, resourceful black kid virtually abandoned by his mother and Rebecca Hall as a newly arrived neighbor across the street, pregnant, waiting for her husband to show up from New York. (This all happens in Phoenix.) There is also a sentimental, wistfully feel-good sequence featuring Laura Dern as a high school classmate who's turned into a brave single mom. Farrell is convincing, and this movie does a good job of taking us to what happens when an addict hits bottom. Melodrama and shocks are wisely avoided. But the movie feels pushed, diluted. One would like to see it ruthlessly pared down to essentials the way Raymond Carver's editor Gordon Lish famously did with his stories. But then the problem is, how do you pare down ruthlessly and still have a feature film? The solution Robert Altman found was his film Short Cuts, which runs a serial sequence of Carver stories and interweaves some of them. Altman's Short Cuts is the best movie ever made out of Raymond Carver stories.

Perhaps the comparison is unfair to first-timer Rush. And a short story can be made into a feature. It's all in how you use the empty spaces. In Everything Must Go (the source story,"Why Don't You Dance?" -- is available on line and it's only 1,616 words long) those spaces unfortunately are too often filled with soft music spinning off an acoustic guitar and shots of Ferrell on the lawn sipping beer from a can. The life is wildly out of control, yet the story is becalmed, often at a standstill. The film, falling back on its protagonist's former suburban comfort level, is cheating, making things a little too easy for him on the way down. At the beginning he has lost everything. His company car is taken away the next morning, his wife cuts off his bank account and blocks his credit cards. The police are watching him and giving him only a few days to camp on the lawn before they lock him up. Yet he can cook food, sleep comfortably, play records for young Kenny (Wallace), and winds up selling everything and handing the boy a big wad of cash as his cut. He is just too comfortable. Something is being fudged here. The movie captures the denial of the alcoholic and the smoothing over of a glib corporate salesman, but it loses track of the desperation hidden underneath.

The thing about the original short story is that the desperation is implicit from the start in its opening scene of the bedroom and bits of the house assembled on the lawn with electric connections. The story doesn't show the man being fired from his job as the movie begins by doing, and the emptied-out house is not a surprise in the story as it is to Will Ferrell's character. In the story, the man comes back with food and more liquor and finds a young couple, called just "the boy" and "the girl," wanting to buy things. And there is a wonderfully austere Raymond Carver touch in how the couple is described: "In the lamplight, there was something about their faces. It was nice or it was nasty. There was no telling." It's the way Carver holds them, and everything, the whole desperate, odd situation, at one remove, that makes the story so striking and strong -- like so many of his stories. Altman captures that in Short Cuts, partly by the way he switches back and forth between stories, surprising us and keeping us from becoming too comfortable with any one character or situation.

We do get comfortable with Ferrell, and that is the strength and the weakness of Everything Must Go. Toward the end of Raymond Carver's story, in which the boy and girl get drunk with the man on his lawn strewn with his possessions, the desperation finally becomes explicit. "You must be desperate or something," says the girl. "Weeks later," the story ends, the girl looks with crude condescension at the old records they bought, with the other things, from the man. "Will you look at this shit?" she says. Everything Must Go never dares to be so cruel. It lets Will Ferrell down easy. This is a tougher more dramatic role than this mainstream movie comic usually plays, to put it mildly (but think of Nicolas Cage and Leaving Las Vegas -- now there's a wild ride). But the movie fudges its final sequence, even making it seem like a nice ending. Kenny has shown skill as a salesman. He's made a wad of money. Nick (Ferrell) may be on the way to a comeback. His former manager has turned up in a rest room and hinted Nick could even have gotten his job back if he'd played it right. And he's been hugged by two pretty women, Rebecca Hall and Laura Dern.

The movie has one truly dark note, when Nick finds out what his AA sponsor Frank (a rather lame Michael Peña) has been up to. There's truth in that. Carver, like the makers of Leaving Las Vegas, knew the inevitability of the downward spiral of an alcoholic whose life has spun out of control. I wish Dan Rush well. It is always interesting to use a comic in a harsh dramatic role and Ferrell is watchable in this slightly too soft movie. But stick to Altman. This adaptation is not ruthless enough for its subject or its source. Rush's interpolations are interesting, but not interesting enough. They are plausible, but without much emotional resonance.

Everything Must Go went into limited US theatrical release May 13, 2011. An Australian 18-minute short film was made from this same story in 2001 called Everything Goes but I have not seen it.

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