Monday, September 12, 2011

At the Movies: Everything Must Go

On an indie flick streak (having seen Our Idiot Brother last Thursday), I rented Everything Must Go this past weekend.  As I'm sure you've probably heard, it's a stark, seemingly simple story about a man who's hit rock bottom.  Based on Raymond Carver's short story "Why Don't You Dance?", the film centers around Nick Halsey (Will Ferrell), a hotshot Arizona salesman who gets fired from his job and dumped by his wife on the same day.  Fresh from slashing his boss's tires, Nick returns home to new locks and a lawn full of his belongings.  My first reaction was of the "aw, poor guy" kind.  But then it's revealed that Nick is an alcoholic, a piece of information that transforms him from a garden variety hard luck case to the kind of Willy Loman-type anti-hero with whom it's more challenging to identify.

Nick maintains little contact with the outside world despite his new outdoor residence, save for an unlikely friendship with Kenny (Christopher Jordan Wallace), a local caretaker's boy, and a fledgling acquaintanceship with his new next door neighbor, Samantha (Rebecca Hall), a pregnant photographer waiting for her husband.

At first, Nick doesn't want to sell his stuff.  Having a yard sale isn't even his idea, but is introduced by a passerby who wants to buy the armchair where Nick is sitting.  And really, who could blame him?  His things are all he knows and all he has left in the world - much like his alcoholism.  What's more, keeping everything on his lawn for all to see represents a kind of defiance.  This becomes clear when the police tell Nick that a neighbor has filed a complaint about his yard.  He's bringing down the value of the neighborhood, after all, violating the social norm of conformity and well-concealed messes.  Set off by this last straw, Nick peeks into the window of the neighbor whom he suspects turned him in - and sees something shocking.  Later he tells Kenny that everyone in suburbia has issues  - he's just more upfront about it.  Although it was his wife and boss who brought his demons to light, it's Nick who's made the decision to embrace them.  For now.

But then Nick begins to see that Kenny needs him.  Overweight and a locker room laughingstock, Kenny wants to learn to play baseball.  So, ex-high school champ Nick steps up to the plate.  Playing catch is only the beginning.  Soon Nick is giving Kenny pointers on salesmanship, helping him assist their customers until all the relics of Nick's old life disappear. 

Kind of brings a whole new meaning to therapeutic de-cluttering, huh?

I won't go into how the movie ends (truth be told, I've already spilled too much), but I'll say this: give it a chance.  Slow-moving as it is, this is one of those films that requires introspection to be appreciated,  much like a classic novel that bores you to tears until a professor (or book club) turns it into something interesting.  

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