FOR ONE OF THE MOST successful movie stars on the planet, I still feel that Will Ferrell doesn't get enough credit. That's probably because his usual fare doesn't stray too far from the lucrative template he struck in 2004's Anchorman—most of Ferrell's comedy is based on broad characterizations of intensely stupid people. Still, I've always believed he could be a powerful dramatic actor when he chose to be. Looking over his lengthy filmography, I don't know where the hell I got that idea: Stranger than Fiction, maybe? His tiny part in Woody Allen's Melinda and Melinda? His weirdly stirring rendition of Andrea Bocelli's "Por Ti Volaré" at the end of Step Brothers?
Writer/director Dan Rush's debut feature Everything Must Go is clear, concrete evidence of Ferrell's remarkable ability as an actor even when he doesn't have a silly costume or bushy mustache to hide behind. Ferrell plays Nick, and the film opens on what's probably the worst day of his life. He's just been fired by his younger boss, played by It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's Glenn Howerton (demonstrating a pitch-perfect aptitude for slimeballism that will probably see him cast as comedic villains for the next two decades). Nick goes home to find his wife has finally gotten fed up and left; she's changed the locks on their house and dumped all his possessions on the front lawn. Nick finds solace in a 12-pack of Pabst, and then another 12-pack, and we soon learn that alcohol is the reason he's lost his wife, his house, and his job.
That probably doesn't sound like a typical Will Ferrell comedy to you, nor should it: Everything Must Go is based on a sliver of a short story by Raymond Carver called "Why Don't You Dance?" which is so minimal it could almost be considered flash fiction. The furniture on the lawn is really the only detail that Carver nails down—well, that and the drinking. This leaves plenty of room for Rush to draw his own lines through the story, giving Nick a full backstory and a supporting cast of neighbors, including a winsome Rebecca Hall as the pregnant woman across the street, and a great Christopher Jordan Wallace (the Notorious BIG's son! really!) as a latchkey kid for whom Nick becomes a shaky mentor. But Ferrell's the real revelation here, turning in a heartfelt performance of a pitiful man without once mugging for the camera.