Get ready for Will Ferrell like you’ve never seen him. As Nick Halsey, a salesman who’s lost his job, drowned his sorrows and driven his fed-up wife to leave their suburban home, lock him out and toss his belongings on the front lawn, Ferrell delivers a performance of implosive intensity that rings true in every detail. Even in comedies — think Old School, Anchorman, Talladega Nights and The Other Guys — Ferrell shows the instincts of a true actor, never getting laughs at the expense of character.
Everything Must Go, deftly adapted from the great Raymond Carver’s short story “Why Don’t You Dance?” by first-time feature director Dan Rush, breaks new ground for Ferrell. He’s as low-key as the movie that surrounds him. Rush’s camera watches Nick sit out his exile in a lawn chair, mostly kibbitzing with Kenny, a chubby neighborhood kid played with acute timing and sensitivity by Christopher Jordan Wallace (son of R&B star Faith Evans and the late rapper Biggie Smalls).
Nick’s cop friend Frank Garcia (the excellent Michael Peña) buys him five days to sort his head out as long as he runs a yard sale. Nick intersects with new neighbor Samantha (Rebecca Hall) and has a poignant encounter with Delilah (Laura Dern), a friend he hasn’t seen since high school. But basically Everything Must Go is a one-man show in which Ferrell plays a growing species of American castoff. There’s no begging for tears for Nick; Rush keeps his film rigorously unsentimental, but Ferrell opens a wound and makes it impossible for us to ignore it.