Written by: Dan Rush
Starring: Will Ferrell, Rebecca Hall, Michael Peña, Glenn Howerton, Stephen Root
Actions have consequences for everyone even if an individual manages to avoid them for longer than others. It’s the natural order of life and must be reckoned with at some point. The proverbial consequences faced in Everything Must Go puts the audience in the place to sympathize with an unlikable individual and unfortunately, it does not do enough to make him redeemable or interesting by any stretch.
Fired for what appears to be the last straw with his drunk episodes, Nick (Will Ferrell) returns to his home to discover his wife left him, changed the locks, and left all of his belongings on the front lawn. With everything around him beginning to crumble, Nick needs to make a decision on how he will continue on with his life.
Opening with a seminar on how to properly sell, Everything Must Go sets up Nick to, at the very least, be a savvy business person. He knows how to navigate conversations with people in order to get what he wants, which makes the inevitable downturn so much more surprising. Discovering on the same day he lost his job and has nowhere to go definitely would classify as the worst day ever for anyone. This leaves the audience trying to decipher exactly what he did wrong to find himself in this scenario as he essentially lives on his front lawn with all of his earthly possessions.
As the film progresses, we learn about his battle with alcoholism, how his company has supported him throughout the years, and he continues to relapse and causes problems for them. It recontextualizes the first conversation he has with his superior, but the reason he got let go ultimately came down to one incident and it’s where the film lost me. Talking about this does require a spoiler so fair warning ahead. His drinking habits led him to do many unappealing things but what broke the camel’s back included another female employee in a hotel room. Nothing gets explicitly expressed as to what specifically occurred in that room, which probably came as an effort for the audience to put the pieces together, but the different variables involved drastically could change the way this character can be looked at. The only information received was that both he and the female employee were drinking and then she sued the company, which insinuates a heinous act by Nick that the film never truly reckons with. It could be that I read what occurred differently than what the film intended but this ambiguity certainly does not help.
This ultimately gets right at the big issue holding back this film. Sure, it has some cute moments between Nick and the neighborhood kid, Kenny (Christopher Wallace), but it does not do enough character work with the protagonist. He has his moments in the dumps and where he learns a lesson, but it never reckons with the ultimate harm he may have committed on another person to which they tried to sue the company. I can count on one hand what the lawsuits could have been about and it never receives its proper interrogation. This made it difficult to connect with Nick as a character and root for a happy ending on his part. Additionally, for a relatively short film, the pacing really dragged out this story longer than it needed to be. Based on a short story, this film had plenty of trouble filling in its runtime with much substance where it ultimately could have been a short film to tell the same narrative.
The lack of a strong story comes as a real shame seeing as this marks one of Will Ferrell’s biggest jumps into drama. He takes on this beaten-down character who has done horrible things and tries to humanize him. It works in parts, but Ferrell ultimately gets let down by the screenplay and the lack of scope with what was explored with this man. He makes the bits of comedy sprinkled in there work because he’s a brilliant comedic actor whenever he really tries. He pairs well with the other supporting actors as they each contribute even if it’s minuscule when looking at this story as a whole.
Everything Must Go had some strong potential to truly examine its character and what he needs to give up in order to clean up his life, but it never truly gets going because it never fully recognizes everything this character did to get himself in this situation. It does not allow for a fully realized character arc, which allows for some good cute moments of growth but ultimately a man not worth the investment this film asks for.