Big comedy stars tend to tamp down and clam up when they go "serious" in movies, and it doesn't always work. In dramatic roles, they can get hushed and self-conscious, suppressing the instinct for frenetic, free-form riffing or goofball shtick - as if they might suddenly explode and mess the whole thing up.
It's to Will Ferrell's credit, then, and to Dan Rush, the filmmaker whose idea it was to hire him, that the actor and his character sync up perfectly in Everything Must Go. The doofus clown of Step Brothers and Talladega Nights is gone, but Nick Halsey, the Arizona sales exec who's just lost his job and been tossed out of his house by his wife - who's leaving him - still manages to crack a smile. Admittedly, he's also cracking open cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon. The guy's in AA, and his last six months of sobriety come to an end as his life falls apart.
Adapted from Raymond Carver's short story "Why Don't You Dance," Everything Must Go is a sharply drawn study of down-and-outness that dovetails neatly, alas, with the Great Recession fallout that's raining across the land. George Clooney's Up in the Air downsizing consultant isn't brought in to fire Ferrell's Halsey, but the same feeling that the boom times have passed, that the days of flush credit and McMansion mortgages are over, permeates the air.
And so what happens as Halsey staggers across the office parking lot, with his two allotted boxes of personal belongings, is this: He drives to a minimart, buys some booze, and returns home, where he finds his possessions - his La-Z-Boy recliner, his baseball memorabilia, his barbecue grill, his vinyl collection - strewn on the front lawn. A kid he's never seen before (Christopher Jordan Wallace, in a beautifully unself-conscious turn) rolls up and starts talking. Halsey is wary at first, and in no mood to befriend some pudgy preteen, but Kenny has issues of rejection and fear and self-doubt, too, and a bond develops.