Everything Must Go

Everything Must Go

Will Ferrell takes a break from big budget comedies.

(2010) Dramedy (Roadside Attractions) Will Ferrell, Rebecca Hall, Laura Dern, Michael Pena, Christopher Jordan Wallace, Stephen Root, Glenn Howerton, Rosalie Michaels, Todd Bryant, Dave LaBrucherie, Daniel D. Halleck. Directed by Dan Rush

There are times in our lives when we are hit by a storm of crises. Major life-changing events – almost always negative – seem to batter us one after the other. Sometimes, the storms are of our own making but how we react to them, whatever the cause, is often a major component of what defines us for the rest of our lives.

Nick Halsey (Ferrell) is having a really bad day. He is fired from his job after an incident on a business trip revealed him to have fallen off the wagon yet again. The company has been patient with his alcoholism recovery, his boss (Howerton) tells him as he informs him of his impending unemployed state, but this last straw was too much. Because Nick is a regional vice president and had been with the company for sixteen years, he’s given a pocketknife with his name engraved on it as a parting gift. Rule number one for employers giving gifts to employees who are being let go – never give them weapons. Nick thoughtfully slashes his boss’ tire with the pocketknife before being forced to flee, leaving the pocket knife in the tire.

He drops by a local convenience store to get a 12-pack of beer and a Slurpee. A couple of teens ask him if they can buy the beer off of him. When Nick refuses, one of them knocks his Slurpee over in a fit of pique. No frozen treat for Nick. When he gets home, he arrives to find all of his stuff on the front lawn, all the locks changed and a note from his wife telling him that she’s left him, advising him not to call. Thoughtfully, she freezes their joint account ensuring that Nick has no place to go and no way of having his stuff put in storage. His company car gets repossessed. Nick is reduced to sleeping in a recliner on his front lawn, only to be awakened by the automatic sprinkler the next morning.

Nick takes refuge in a constant stream of beer drinking. However, there are those in his neighborhood who are a bit uneasy with his living situation and the cops are called. However, Nick has a friend on the force – his AA sponsor Det. Frank Garcia (Pena). Frank keeps him out of jail, but informs him that he can keep his stuff out there if he has a yard sale. This buys him three additional days out on the lawn.

Nick meets young Kenny Loftus (Wallace), a lonely young boy whose obesity has made him an object of ridicule. Nick hires Kenny to watch his stuff and help him prepare for the sale, teaching him how to play baseball in exchange (along with hourly wages and a cut from the proceeds of the sale). Nick also meets his comely new neighbor Samantha (Hall) who has just moved out from New York in advance of her husband whose arrival in Arizona is repeatedly delayed.

Nick also seeks out Delilah (Dern), who once wrote a very sweet Yearbook entry for him in High School, although they never formally went out. She’s a single mom now whose dream of being an actress never materialized. She recounts an incident from high school that Nick doesn’t even remember but made an indelible impression on her.

Still, Nick can’t help but be his own worst enemy despite his good heart. He is frustrated, and the alcohol has taken a renewed hold on him. Has Nick hit bottom yet or will he sabotage what momentum upward he might have established?

This is based on a short story by Raymond Carver and to be honest, I’m not all that familiar with Carver’s work firsthand so I can’t really say how accurately this reflects the spirit of the original. I’m advised however that the movie indeed captures Carver nicely, so I’ll go with that – I’ll leave fans of the author to judge for themselves.

This is a role that in many ways is very well suited for Ferrell – but in many ways not. Ferrell doesn’t do many dramatic roles and while Nick has a few comedic moments (most of which are captured in the trailer), they’re rarely over-the-top and are for the most part, overshadowed by Ferrell’s depiction of his addiction. To Ferrell’s credit, he doesn’t play Nick as an out-of-control boozer, but a quiet drunk, chain-guzzling Pabst Blue Ribbons (probably the best beer he could afford on what limited cash he had) and at times letting his inner demons get control.

The scene with Dern is one of the best in the movie. Most reviews I’ve read of the film have said something along the lines of “Dern makes a rare but welcome appearance” which I whole-heartedly agree with. Dern, whose sunny persona illuminated such films as Jurassic Park and October Skies, is one of the most underused actresses in Hollywood whether by design or not. She does so well as Delilah that you almost want to follow her story after she leaves the screen after a brief 10 minute appearance. She’s likable and meshes well with Ferrell.

Rebecca Hall also does a nice job as the sweet but sad Samantha. Hall is beginning to build a reputation, getting cast in a number of projects both high profile and indie; like Dern, she’s very likable and capable as an actress. She holds her own in her scenes with Ferrell which is saying something – Ferrell has a surfeit of personality that can overwhelm a partner from time to time. However, Hall does just enough to be memorable.

In fact, the whole movie can be characterized that way. It’s very likable throughout, but exceedingly low-key. The performances are good but not great. I know that’s damning with faint praise, but it really is a movie that I can recommend – it’s just not going to blow your socks off. However, I can commend it on its realism; there are no pat answers here and the ending lets you know that Nick is far from out of the woods, but there is a sense of a chapter coming to an end. I can honestly say I like the tone here, but I would have liked a little more passion.

REASONS TO GO: A good change of pace for Ferrell. Quirky but never intrusively so.

REASONS TO STAY: A pleasant film that never really rises above that.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of bad language and some sexual innuendo.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Actor Christopher Jordan Wallace is the son of the late rapper Notorious BIG.

HOME OR THEATER: An intimate film that is going to be difficult to find in theaters; you’re all right if you check it out on home video though.




Gran Torino

Gran Torino

"Get off my lawn!"

(Warner Brothers) Clint Eastwood, Christopher Carley, Bee Vang, Ahney Her, John Carroll Lynch, Brian Haley, Geraldine Hughes, Dreama Walker, Brooke Chia Thao, Chee Thao. Directed by Clint Eastwood

Change is a difficult proposition even for the most flexible of souls. As we get older, that flexibility declines and we eventually become stiffer, harder to move. Change for the old is a rare event indeed.

Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) is burying his wife. The church in suburban Detroit is filled with mourners, including Walt’s son Mitch (Haley) and his wife Karen (Hughes), who arrive fashionably late, which gets a grimace from the old man, and with children casually attired, which gets a growl. The fact that the priest, Father Janovich (Carley) is barely out of the seminary and is so wet behind the ears he constantly drips on the carpet adds to Walt’s barely disguised disgust.

Kowalski has lived long enough to see his neighborhood change out from under him. Gone are the working class folks who mainly toiled as Walt did at the Ford plant or some other automaker around the Detroit area, and in their place are Asians, mostly of the Hmong people, a hill people from Cambodia and Laos. Walt doesn’t understand who they are or why they’re there; he figures southern, warmer climates would be more their style than the cold, brutal Michigan winters.

Next door as the funeral reception concludes is a ceremony that is meant to banish the evil spirits from a newborn baby, not unlike a christening. Among the extended family living there are Thao (Vang), a shiftless young teenager who has learned to keep his head down and seems fairly bullied by the women in his family, and Sue (Her), his big sister, chief bullier and the most Americanized of the family.

Walt, who served in Korea, commonly refers to the Hmongs as gooks; while he never uses the “N” word (making him, I suppose, a nice racist), he throws out quite a few slurs in that direction as well. It is only when he sees Sue getting harassed by a trio of African-Americans that he feels moved to take action. We realize that Walt is a tough old cookie who has a healthy heaping of crazy in his recipe too.

Grateful for the assistance, she sees Walt out on his porch drinking beer alone on his birthday and he’s all out of beer. She insists that he come over to their home for barbecue and beer. Walt is on his best behavior, so he isn’t growling much (although the grandmother (Chee Thao) doesn’t trust him as far as she can spit him) but he still is like a fish out of water. He calls Sue “Dragon Lady,” mostly out of affection and notices the dejected Thao sitting on the washing machine in the basement rec room. Thao has his eye on a pretty Hmong girl but, as Walt is only too happy to point out (he calls Thao “Toad” which seems to amuse him) the girl actually is interested in him, God knows why.

Thao has been getting hassled by the local Hmong gang-bangers to join their crew and when he more or less accepts, his initiation is to steal a car and not just any car – Walt’s pride and joy, a 1972 Gran Torino that Walt himself helped build on the assembly line back in the day. Of course, the inexperienced Thao bungles it and gets caught by Walt.

Sue and her family are mortified and by way of apology they order Thao to assist Walt with any odd jobs he so desires for a week. Walt is reluctant at first but as the week goes by he learns to respect the boy’s work ethic and his eagerness to learn new skills. A genuine bond develops between them, and Walt arranges for Thao to get work at a construction site, loaning him tools and helping him buy the necessaries for construction work. He also takes him to his barber (Lynch) to learn how to speak like an American man, which only serves to confuse the boy further.

The gang, however, hasn’t gone far away and they’re none too pleased that Thao is not joining. Things begin to escalate into downright ugliness that is going to lead to a confrontation that is sure to involve bloodshed.

Eastwood has stated that this will be his last appearance onscreen as an actor, and as he nears 80, it’s understandable that he would go that route. If this is to be his final onscreen performance, it isn’t a bad one. It’s inevitable that Walt will be compared to Eastwood’s best-known role as Dirty Harry but that really is an injustice. The part here is multi-layered and Walt is basically a man who wants to be left alone to sip Pabst Blue Ribbon on his porch with his faithful dog Daisy at his side, but events conspire against him. Still, he allows himself a Dirty Harry-esque line in “Get off of my lawn,” growled early on in the picture.

Other than Lynch who is best known as Drew Carey’s brother on his television show but has blossomed into a marvelous character actor, the actors here are mainly unknown. Many are from the Hmong community in the Midwest and had little or no prior acting experience. Reportedly Eastwood encouraged them to ad-lib their lines, and that was a wise choice; most of the Hmong characters seem very authentic and unforced as opposed to other non-professional actors I’ve seen in other films. Her as Sue is the best of the bunch, brash and bold but soft and feminine at the same time. When her vulnerability is exposed, it’s a powerful, powerful scene.

I also want to make note of the theme song, which is sung once by Eastwood himself (and was co-composed by his son Kyle) and once by Jamie Cullum, who sounds uncannily like Billy Joel. The song is wistful and earthy and sounds like the kind of tune you’d hear in a corner beer joint jukebox near closing time. I thought it fit the tone of the film perfectly.

I’m not too familiar with the Hmong culture, but the movie gives you glimpses into it, which I found fascinating. Given the amount of Hmong participation in the film, I’d hope that it’s portrayed fairly accurately. I also liked the usage of the suburban Detroit locations. You get a real sense of the rundown, Midwestern neighborhood and that infuses the movie throughout.

This won’t rank as one of Eastwood’s best, either as an actor or as a director, but it’s a strong film nonetheless. I was genuinely affected in places, and I found myself liking Walt Kowalski despite all his failings which means that Eastwood the actor did his job well. It’s the kind of bittersweet movie that bears late-night viewing perfectly; it’s also the kind of movie that stays with you long after the closing credits have finished rolling.

WHY RENT THIS: Clint Eastwood is a living legend and this may well be his last movie. The theme song is amazing, even with Eastwood singing it in a gravelly voice over the end credits. Great sense of location, interesting insights into the Hmong community and some genuinely affecting moments.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some may find Walt’s general attitude and language offensive. Not as emotionally powerful as Eastwood’s best work.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of violence but a whole lot of cussin’, and quite a lot of racial slurs. Recommended for mature teens and older.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Writers Nick Schenck and Dave Johannson wrote the script while working in a steel mill; they’d jot down ideas on scraps of paper during lunch breaks. They were inspired by members of the Hmong community who worked nearby.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are a couple of featurettes on the relationship between men and their cars, and on the Blu-Ray there’s a 20 minute featurette on the directing career of Clint Eastwood.


TOMORROW: Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li