Gary’s Off-the-Map Movie Pick: Everything Must Go

Recently, I re-watched Everything Must Go, an adaptation of the very short Raymond Carver story “Why Don’t You Dance?” When I saw it for the first time back in 2011, I expected to enjoy it, but I was surprised at just how good it was.

First things first: Everything Must Go stars Will Ferrell. I mention this because it could be a sticking point for some folks. Yes, this is the same dude who played Ricky Bobby, Ron Burgundy, and Buddy the Elf. Not that there’s anything wrong with all that. In fact, I like him as an actor. That’s not to say I’ve enjoyed every role he’s ever taken on, but it is to say I think he’s a talented and committed performer. He’s also damned funny, and he seems to have a keen sense for what makes people laugh. That’s something I can respect, and if he’s found a way to make a living doing it, then multiple cheers for him.

Even as a Ferrell fan, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from him in this film. The Carver story is short and spare, and the main character is a man who appears to be giving up on life, or is at least content to let it pass him by. The story’s title comes, in fact, from the man’s request to a young couple that they dance in his front yard, suggesting he’s living his past through watching them. Playing this kind of subdued character isn’t something Ferrell is known for.

The film takes a slightly different approach, remaining true to the spirit of the short story while capitalizing on Ferrell’s strengths. The trailers present the movie as a comedy, and it is, but only in the same sense that life is comedy. The film is made up of nearly equal parts humor, tragedy, bittersweet moments, ambiguity, and missed opportunities. 

In a nutshell, the story is this: Nick Halsey, a relapsed alcoholic, comes home to find his wife gone, his house locked, and all his possessions in the front yard. While Carver’s “Why Don’t You Dance?” is about a man watching life go on without him, Everything Must Go is about a man who has yet to make that decision. The rest is about what he does next.

The film isn’t superior or inferior to the story. Instead, screenwriter Dan Rush gives us an expanded version of Carver’s tale, one in which we get to see what happens after the author’s ending. The story concludes not with the man but with the young couple, but the film allows us to watch Nick as he learns to let go.

It’s refreshing to see Ferrell get a role like this. He’s done drama before and since Everything Must Go, but like other gifted actors who happen to excel at comedy (Bill Murray and Robin Williams come to mind), Ferrell is adept at eliciting more than just laughs, and it’s nice to watch him shine in this one.

Here’s a link to Carver’s story.