Almost zero, weâ€™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 â€œEverything Must Go,â€ 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 Carverâ€™s laconic prose.
The story, â€œWhy Donâ€™t You Dance?â€ was first published in 1978 and was later included in Carverâ€™s 1981 collection of short stories, â€œWhat We Talk About When We Talk About Love.â€ Carver, a short story writer and poet considered to have revitalized the short story in the 1980s, knew something about alcoholism and divorce.
â€œWe tried hard, but time finally ran out on us,â€ Carver said of his failed marriage in a 1988 interview with the New York Times. â€œIt was an indelible experience. Iâ€™ve circled around it many times in my work â€¦ I think marriage is one of those things that writers draw on, one of those emotional reservoirs that go way back.â€
At less than 1,700 words, Carverâ€™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.
Ferrellâ€™s character Nick Halsey is a mid-level regional sales manager in Phoenix. When firing him, his boss references Halseyâ€™s past drinking problems and an unspecified â€œincident in Denverâ€ 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 bossâ€™s Mustang. Flustered by approaching co-workers, Halsey leaves the knife â€“ with his name engraved on it â€“ 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 Ferrellâ€™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 â€“ who deeply influenced Carverâ€™s work â€“ meant by the following passage from â€œThe Old Man and the Sea.â€
â€œMan is not made for defeat,â€ Hemingway wrote. â€œA man can be destroyed but not defeated.â€
A comforting thought, indeed, when one finds his life in tatters.
â€œEverything Must Goâ€ is rated R for language and alcohol abuse.Â