I saw a trailer for Dan Rush’s debut film Everything Must Go and I thought, that reminds of a Raymond Carver short story. There was Will Ferrell on his front lawn, sitting in an arm chair, surround be his belongings, his living room reassembled, books and trophies, lamp and TV set. Indeed, the film turns out to be an adaptation of the four page Carver story “Why Don’t You Dance.”
It’s a bold gambit and a good one. Will Ferrell, of course, is a mega super star comedian of big box office pictures, but he plays the role of down and out Nick Halsey nice and quiet. No over the top grief. No broad humor. He is not too big a star for this small, sensitive movie.
The film begins when Nick, a recovering alcoholic who has fallen, badly, gets fired for bad behaviour. He returns home to find himself locked out of his house, wife gone, and his possessions on the grass. Crushed, he doesn’t leave. He drinks beer, pisses in his pool, falls asleep outside.
The Carver story is short, only four pages. A boy and girl see the man’s possessions on the lawn and see what they can buy. The mattress, the lamp, the dresser. The girl asks for good prices and is discomfited when she gets them. In the film, however, she is transformed into a pregnant young woman (the luminous Rebecca Hall) who just moved into the house across the street. To the feature film , Dan Rush also adds the character of Kenny (Christopher Jordan Wallace), a sad African-American boy looking for a father figure, a friend in the form of a sympathetic police officer (Michael Pena). Also, Laura Dern as Delilah, who represents the path not taken.
Basically, the film is not the book, though it does resonate Carver. An entire narrative is enacted, and while not entirely plausible, the story works well enough. The furniture is on the lawn, the record player hooked up to the electric outlet, playing old records. Nick and Kenny have a big garage sale. Nick and the pregnant neighbor get to have that uncomfortable dance. Everything Must Go is a fine film on it’s own, though the resolution, a happy ending of sorts, is far too clean and tidy considering its inspiration.