Nowhere to go but up

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“Everything Must Go,” starring Will Farrell, Rebecca Hall, and Christopher Gordon Wallace; directed by Dan Rush; adapted by Dan Rush from, “Why Don’t You Dance,” a short story by Raymond Carver.
In director Dan Rush’s “Everything Must Go,” an engaging film depicting one man’s quiet desperation, Nick Halsey (Will Ferrell) has a high-paying position at a marketing firm, a beautiful wife (who we never see), a beautiful house on a cul-de-sac in a leafy Arizona suburb, and a high-end car (albeit company-owned). But it all comes crashing down one morning when he is fired.
Halsey’s young boss tells him, “The company is making changes, and here’s a little something to show we recognize and respect the work you’ve done for us,” and hands him a small box. Nick is on wrong side of middle age, a position most workers in this shaky economy fear is the first nail in the coffin.
In the parking lot, he opens the box. The gift is a Swiss Army Knife. Dumbfounded at this turn of events, he could slit his wrists with it and bleed to death right there. Instead, he uses it to puncture a tire on his boss’s car. He comes home to find the locks changed; his wife gone, and all his stuff is piled on the lawn. He reacts understandably as though he himself has been punctured. A neighbor, Elliot (Stephen Root), berates Nick about the mess: “It’ll bring property values down.”
A chubby kid, Kenny (Christopher Jordan Wallace, a natural), who’s Black, tells Nick that his mom provides live-in care for an old lady, leaving Kenny on his own “until the old lady dies.” One’s first thought is that Black folk can work for white folk in that all-white neighborhood but they don’t live there; but this is dashed, thankfully, when later we see Kenny sitting on his front porch nearby.
So we know that Rush is not going to give us a heavy message about race or class. Yet the theme of a man who knows what it feels like to hit a wall is one that all of us can relate to—especially in today’s economy.
Nick makes the best of the devastating change in his life. He kicks back in his leisure chair, drinks beer (major product placement) till he passes out and is wakened by the timed sprinklers. He hires the savvy, aware Kenny—who insists on being paid minimum wage—to help him straighten up his stuff.
Nick is a real loser, and to Will Ferrell’s credit, he plays the role straight. An actor known for his spoofs, comedies, fantasies (“Elf”), and as a host on “Saturday Night Live,” he demonstrates here a talent for drama. He carries the film—a difficult job in that he’s in every scene.
Nick projects his own sorry state on to his lonely, pregnant, new neighbor, Samantha (Rebecca Hall), which turns volatile, and he reaches a crisis—hitting rock bottom. It’s painful to watch him beg a beer from a customer leaving the store with a six-pack.
However, our credibility is challenged when Nick is suddenly transformed by a glass of ice water and a couple of Valium. He no longer joneses for a beer. Sorry, but recovery doesn’t happen that fast.
Raymond Carver wrote most of his stories in the 1970s, well before the economic collapse of the early 1980s. He himself was an alcoholic, had lived in Arizona, and had been fired from lucrative jobs. Unfortunately, since 2008, many more men in white-collar positions have lost their jobs, while many women appear to be hanging on to theirs at salaries 70% less than men’s.
“Everything Must Go” would have been a total downer if it weren’t for Nick’s relationship with Kenny: They share “fat jokes,” he teaches the boy how to play baseball and discusses sales techniques with him—which Kenny uses to make a success of their yard sale.
This real-life film is a wonderfully satisfying departure from films whose focus is explosions, car chases, murders, science fiction, comic-book heroes, zombies, or people getting drunk and doing stupid things.   “Everything” ends inconclusively, but that’s all right.
> The article above was written by Gaetana Caldwell-Smith and first appeared in the June 2011 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.

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