By Nathanael Griffis
One of my favorite short stories is Raymond Carver’s ”Why Don’t You Dance?” which opens up his amazing collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. It was the first example of his minimalist writing style that I truly enjoyed. I didn’t like “Cathedral.” (The four English majors who read this just freaked, closed their laptops, and stomped off to hand-write me angry letters.)
“Why Don’t You Dance?” opens with a man sitting on his lawn surrounded by the majority of his possessions, when a young man and woman approach him. Much like Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants,” the story is not what’s happening in the present or what’s discussed between the characters, but the dripping implication of something tragic that has happened in the past and will have to be dealt with in the future.
The film Everything Must Go takes the premise of a man on his lawn and builds the story around the implication of his being thrown out by his wife. It’s a nice Carver-esque film. It has the harsh honesty of a Carver story that can move from awkward to heartwarming in seconds. Will Ferrell as Nick Halsey is good, though not at his best. At times he boils over into his shtick and pulls out a joke, which feels out of character. When he’s portraying the broken, confused, and stubborn recovering alcoholic salesman, he’s brilliant. It’s in those few moments that he cracks a joke. I laugh for certain, but then I remember it’s Will Ferrell and it feels like he’s not acting. There are moments of natural in-character humor, like when he lays down a tough negotiation over a half-empty bottle of mouthwash and dental floss. The film would have been more effective if it hadn’t tried to force in humor that doesn’t fit.
Rebecca Hall is great, but I’m starting to notice she’s being typecast as the discarded woman, which is unfortunate. Christopher Wallace as the neighborhood boy who befriends Ferrell’s drunk lawn-sitter has wonderful chemistry with Ferrell. Laura Dern and Stephen Root are fine in their few scenes. Glen Howerton does little else then be Glen Howerton (a jackass).
My biggest problem with the film is Michael Peña’s character. Initially, Frank Garcia is an interesting and realistic police sponsor. The turn that bothers me is when — SPOILER ALERT — it’s revealed that Nick’s wife has been staying with Frank, and is going to leave Nick for him. It’s in the Carver spirit of tragedy, but in the context of the film, it feels forced, as if the director wanted to give Peña something else to do; but he mattered enough already as Nick’s truthful steady sponsor. Peña’s performance is fine; he even pulls off the awkward scene of telling his friend he’s sleeping with his wife. It’s just too much convenient and connected tragedy. Nick’s wife can cheat on him, plausibly, even with his friend, but it comes up too fast and too near the end. Instead of being a climatic turn it becomes a tacked-on moment that just feels out of place.
I’m pointing out flaws, because I’m a fan of the story, but in general I would recommend this film. It’s an interesting adaption, and captures the sense of a Carver short. It’s kind of hard to stomach. Not that the subject material is particularly adult, but the delivery of some of the situations is painful. It’s hard to watch a grown man ride a child’s bike to a gas station and beg for change to buy beer. It made me uncomfortable. I felt like walking away from the computer, waving my hand and saying, “I don’t have any change, sorry.” This is, to me, a good thing. It means the movie connected with me on a visceral level. It also manages to have a satisfyingly happy ending with character growth, a difficult thing to accomplish. This isn’t a film that will be remembered. It’s a quiet film that people will have to rally behind and pass around, because it deserves to be seen.
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