Friday, May 13, 2011

Will Ferrell charts a new career in Dan Rush's splendid EVERYTHING MUST GO

Will Ferrell is so good in EVERYTHING MUST GO, you’ll feel you’re seeing him for the first time. And maybe you are. Certainly no director before Dan Rush (shown below) has coaxed from this actor -- or maybe given him the freedom to simply “relax and be” – a character quite as real, fully-conceived, sad, moving (with plenty of little zaps of ironic humor along the way) as Nick Halsey. Nick is the suddenly unemployed fellow who grounds this remarkable movie and makes it work for all of its 96 minutes (except for one really obtuse few moments toward the finale that Rush, as writer/director, should have re-jiggered).

As a drinking alcoholic set adrift by both his employer and his wife, Ferrell (below and on poster, above) shows us depths of feeling, of anger toward himself and others, as well as some slowly dawning realizations that keep us riveted and “with” the movie on every level. How Nick’s life deflates, then settles in, and how he adjusts to some momentous changes suddenly made simple is brought to quiet, full life by this actor – whose career possibilities should broaden dramatically with the release of this movie.

Mr. Rush has taken a very short and typically skeletal (no, not really: more like a single bone) story by Raymond Carver and fleshed it out to full-length film. Yet nothing seems over-drawn nor pushy. Moments are held for maximum force and not a beat longer, while subsidiary characters are imagined (and acted) as fully as Ferrell’s lead role.

These include Nick’s new across-the-street neighbor, beautifully played by Rebecca Hall (above) with a warm combination of strength and vulnerability. Will this actress (The Town, Red Riding: 1974, Starter for 10) ever give less than a grand performance? Unlikely.

Ditto Laura Dern (above), who has but one scene. But what a scene. She plays a woman who, as a high schooler, signed Nick’s yearbook with a line that clearly meant the world to the boy. Now, he tries to re-connect, and Dern does such lovely, dear things with her kind, understanding role, that she breaks your heart, just as she does Nick's.

As Kenny, the boy who comes upon our hero at his lowest point and works out a mutually beneficial arrangement, Christopher Jordan Wallace (above) is wonderful; he strikes not a false note anywhere and never lets his character go sentimental. Michael Peña is fine, too, as Nick’s policeman pal and AA sponsor.

Everything Must Go is Rush’s first movie, but he certainly already knows the secret of making an honest film that deals with important themes by honoring, rather than hectoring, them. If he can do anything this good again, we’ll have an important new filmmaker on our hands. (Even if he doesn't, I suspect this film will stand the test of time.)

Now, about that caveat mentioned at the end of the first paragraph: Would you or anyone you know answer a friend’s cell phone if he had not asked you to? Of course not – unless you perhaps knew the person who was calling well enough to pick up and say hello. But how could you know who was calling without first being able to see the incoming phone number? Nick does this without knowing a f-ing thing except that the phone is ringing, and in one fell swoop, reality disappears. Plot-wise, of course, this phone call must be picked up in order to further things. But all the director had to do was allow us to see that Nick can see that incoming number. This small mistake is such a shock and would indeed be a deal breaker were not everything that had gone before (and that comes after) so damn good.

Aw, what the hell: Isn't it better not to achieve near-perfection with your first film (remember The Usual Suspects?) because that only makes it makes it more difficult for all that you do afterward. Everything Must Go opens today, Friday, May 13, in cities all over the country. Click on the film’s web site and then click on the Buy Tickets link – either Movie Phone or Fandango -- to find a theater/city near you..

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