Based on a Raymond Carver short story, Everything Must Go stars Will Ferrell as an alcoholic who loses his job, then comes home to find that his wife has dumped all his stuff on the lawn, changed the locks, and frozen all his accounts. So Ferrell buys some beer, plops down in his easy chair, and proceeds to live in his yard for the next five days, while holding a little sale. Meanwhile, he converses with the people who pass by: concerned policeman (and Ferrell’s AA sponsor) Michael Peña; pregnant neighbor Rebecca Hall, who has a straying husband of her own; and pudgy kid Christopher Jordan Wallace, who becomes Ferrell’s assistant salesman.
Writer-director Dan Rush could’ve approached this material in dozens of ways, but the way he chooses—turning it into an occasionally wry, ever-earnest dramedy—is precisely the wrong one. Nearly everything about the movie is standard-issue indie, from the plunky soundtrack to the procession of quirky and/or achingly sensitive supporting characters (many of them played by recognizable faces like Glenn Howerton, Stephen Root, and Laura Dern, getting in a few days’ work). Even the comic moments follow form; this is the kind of movie where if Ferrell tells Wallace, “I don’t need to borrow your bike,” the next shot will inevitably be of him pedaling away.
There’s nothing egregiously awful about Everything Must Go. The premise is inherently engaging, the cast is strong, and it has moments of fleeting poignancy and wit. But there’s nothing surprising or edgy about the movie, either—no wild energy or penetrating insight. It’s only natural that a comedian like Ferrell would want to challenge himself by occasionally taking on dramatic roles, but honestly, Everything Must Go would’ve been a much better movie if it had been more like Talladega Nights than Sunshine Cleaning.