It sounds like the set-up for a wacky comedy: Nick (Will Ferrell) loses his job and comes home to discover that his wife has changed the locks and taken off, leaving all of Nick’s stuff on the front lawn. Unable to get into his own house, Nick sets up camp on the lawn, sleeping in his recliner and cooking on his George Foreman grill. In order to avoid arrest, he puts on an impromptu yard sale, enlisting a neighborhood kid (Christopher Jordan Wallace) to help him sort and price the entirety of his material possessions.
But Everything Must Go, adapted from a Raymond Carver short story by first-time writer-director Dan Rush, isn’t a wacky comedy. It’s a quiet, understated film that finds Ferrell in rare dramatic mode, playing Nick as a lost, broken man, an alcoholic who’s fallen off the wagon and doesn’t know if he wants to get back on. In addition to his teen sidekick, Nick befriends his new neighbor (Rebecca Hall), trying to find a way to reconnect with people and turn his life around. In the Hollywood version, he’d fall in love with the neighbor and get his house back, and while Rush resists some of those easy plot developments, he replaces them with a slow, overly precious journey to nowhere in particular. Ferrell’s idea of serious acting is to hold everything back, and the movie relies on indie-drama clichés that are little better than the ones from Hollywood. It feels slight and heavy-handed at the same time, and ends with a half-hearted shrug. All that seriousness for nothing.