i remember seeing the trailer for this a few months ago. i thought it looked semi-interesting and didn’t think anything of it. but then the last two months i keep seeing those three words in the title five days a week: whenever i went to work, so it kind of sticks in my mind. so it’s more of a personal reason that this was picked. another reason, also personal, is that everything must go is based on a raymond carver short story (like robert altman’s short cuts). carver is on the shortlist of my favorite writers of all time. i guess i’m more picky about literature than movies.
based on carver’s short story why don’t you dance, everything must go stars will ferrell as a corporate middle management type who is fired from his job in the opening scenes and driving his company car home. we learn that he’s an alcoholic. when he gets home, he sees all his possessions in the front lawn and is locked out of the house by his wife. to avoid jail time, he’s given five days to get rid of everything from the yard so he decides to have a yard sale, and have a place to live.
he is aided by the local police detective played by michael pena (gone in sixty seconds ’00, crash, million dollar baby, babel, battle los angeles, 30 minutes or less, tower heist), who also happens to be his a.a. sponsor, a neighborhood kid who’s left alone by his mom (son of notorious b.i.g. christopher jordan wallace, and a pregnant woman new to the neighborhood played by rebecca hall (starter for 10, the prestige, vicky cristina barcelona, the town), who moved across country while her husband is held up due to work. there is an almost metaphysical anachronistic quality in their relationships.
the whole movie more or less takes place within a few block of ferrell’s character’s house. he can’t really go that far since his bank account is frozen by his wife, his car belongs to his company, and has been taken away, and he’s more or less drunk most of the time.
though i’ve read quite a few of craver’s works, i’ve never actually read why don’t you dance until after i saw the movie. i think it actually prepares me for it and have just the right expectations. i wasn’t expecting anything plot heavy or a pure comedy or drama. like most carver stories, everything must go is a funny-tragic character study.
i’ll get this out of the way: ferrell is more than capable for the part. it shouldn’t really come as a surprise since he’s been in a woody allen movie, stranger than fiction and a few other indies. it used to take longer for comedians to get parts like this, often with mixed results. everything must go is not quite on the level of bill murray being in lost in translation but it’s just about on par with jim carrey in the truman show.
the whole cast actually, gave memorable performances. it’s just that the story is about the ferrell character. as mentioned, it’s not really a movie about plot and issues, though the elements are there. we have seen plenty of the middle class corporate zombies getting fired and have to realize that possessions don’t mean anything, they have to get rid of them and find themselves blah blah blah. and then there is the suburb where everything is not as neat as it seems elements that we’ve seen many times. in fact, that seems to be the theme for movies in 1999.
but what works here is the details and characterization that adaptator/writer/director dan rush picked and the direction that the film takes. it’s not a movie about the evil of corporations or the issue of alcoholism or the banality of the suburbs. it’s just a few days in the life of the ferrell character. it’s interested in the grey areas. the relationship between ferrell and hall never sink to a predictable popcorn romance level. the wallace character doesn’t turn out to be the magical wise negro who does nothing but help and save the white protagonist. (there is a comparable maturity level here between the teenage wallace character and the middle age ferrell character, and probably most ferrell characters in his other movies).
i’m also pretty amazed by the fact that the movie manages to draw me in and feel for the characters pretty much throughout the movie. it wasn’t until afterwards that i started thinking about movies with similar elements. one could name blue velvet, american beauty, american psycho, the family man, the weather man, fight club, and office space, but that’s probably because stephen root has a small part as the neighbor.
there are some logical issues in the movie and a problematic plot development in the third act that kind of prevents the movie from being better than it could have been. but unlike altman, rush is working with only one story instead of nine so add-ons are unavoidable but most of the additional stuff work. this is pretty close to nitpicking here but there is one shot that’s almost too filmic for a minimalistic story. i could also do without a certain scene that almost wants to show us the background (childhood) of the main character.
this is more of a personal taste but i am more impressed with someone making a pretty good movie out of a 1600 or so words story than a bloated series of movies out of three-part or seven-part epic scifi fantasy.
p.s. the original carver story is actually only about twice as long as this post, minus this p.s. part. it’s more of just a scene of a man selling his stuff on his front lawn with a young couple as customers (who has a cameo in the movie). why don’t you dance has also been previously adapted into a short in 2004 starring none other than hugo “agent smith/elrond/v/megatron/red skull” weaving and abbie cornish (somersault, candy, bright star, limitless, sucker punch). though i could not find the short titled everything goes, which considering its 18 minutes running time, is probably more faithful to the original short story. sticklers may want to start with the story, then the short and then this feature length movie. i think they did a pretty good job in adding and changing things to make it a feature length movie that retains the carver feel.
everything must go came out on dvd last week, so it’s not on netflix instant, but redbox has it, and probably qwikster.