May 24, 2012


Fly Over: ‘Everything Must Go’

In Carver adaptation, relapsed alcohoic struggles to start over

by Capt. Tristan Hinderliter

What’s the success rate for marriage when one person gets sober and the other doesn’t?

Almost zero, we’re told by Frank Garcia (Michael Pena), the 12-step sponsor for relapsed alcoholic Nick Halsey (Will Ferrell), who discovers for himself the wages of alcoholism and the toll it can take on relationships when he comes home one day after being fired from his job to discover all his belongings in his front yard, his house locked and his wife gone.

Ferrell is unflinching and superb in “Everything Must Go,” the 2010 dramatic comedy directed and written by Dan Rush based on a short story by Raymond Carver, in a film that beautifully brings to life the bleak portrait sketched by Carver’s laconic prose.

The story, “Why Don’t You Dance?” was first published in 1978 and was later included in Carver’s 1981 collection of short stories, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” Carver, a short story writer and poet considered to have revitalized the short story in the 1980s, knew something about alcoholism and divorce.

“We tried hard, but time finally ran out on us,” Carver said of his failed marriage in a 1988 interview with the New York Times. “It was an indelible experience. I’ve circled around it many times in my work … I think marriage is one of those things that writers draw on, one of those emotional reservoirs that go way back.”

At less than 1,700 words, Carver’s short story provides barely enough material for a scene, let alone a feature-length movie. Yet in this imagining of the story, Rush and Ferrell stay true to the spirit of the original work.

Ferrell’s character Nick Halsey is a mid-level regional sales manager in Phoenix. When firing him, his boss references Halsey’s past drinking problems and an unspecified “incident in Denver” that is alluded to several times throughout the movie.

When Halsey leaves, he takes the Swiss Army knife he was given as a going-away present and punctures the tire of his young boss’s Mustang. Flustered by approaching co-workers, Halsey leaves the knife – with his name engraved on it – in the tire. From there, Halsey heads to the convenience store where he picks up a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon. The red, white and blue cans will be ubiquitous for the rest of the film, which takes place over just a few days as Halsey succumbs to his alcoholism while attempting to put his shattered life back in order.

He soon meets Kenny (Christopher Jordan Wallace), a neighborhood boy he befriends and who helps him with the yard sale he ultimately holds to get rid of his possessions. He also meets a new neighbor, Samantha (Rebecca Hall), who attempts to help him only to discover the perils that sometimes accompany charity.

Despite an improbable plot twist near the end of the film, the movie embodies the realism Carver was known for, and Ferrell’s gripping performance is well worth the two hours we spend with him in the throes of drinking and withdrawal. Because despite his flaws, Halsey is not without a measure of redemption. By the end he has perhaps learned what Hemingway – who deeply influenced Carver’s work – meant by the following passage from “The Old Man and the Sea.”

“Man is not made for defeat,” Hemingway wrote. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.”

A comforting thought, indeed, when one finds his life in tatters.

“Everything Must Go” is rated R for language and alcohol abuse. 

About the Author

Capt. Tristan Hinderliter
Tristan Hinderliter is a full-time Public Affairs Officer and part-time pop culture critic. When he’s not listening to the Adam Carolla Podcast, he’s usually watching movies. His favorite directors include David Lynch, Paul Thomas Anderson, the Coen Brothers, Martin Scorsese, David Fincher and Alexander Payne.

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