There are two ways to judge Dan Rush's directorial debut Everything Must Go. You can look at the film itself and/or you can grade star Will Ferrell’s performance. To explain my rating I would give the actual film 4 stars while Ferrell’s performance earns a solid 5. Since they go hand in hand the average represents my rating: 4.5 stars.
The film follows Ferrell as a recovering alcoholic who relapses
after losing his job. He comes home to find that his wife has left him and
put all of his stuff on their front lawn prompting his decision to live on his yard. But local laws prohibit that (and some
neighbors don’t approve) so he is forced to turn the whole thing into a yard sale within
five days. If you can spot the metaphor between the things on the lawn
and his troubles congrats! You’ve cleared Metaphors 101. We’ll cover
similes next week. Anyway living on the lawn causes Ferrell to look
back and ponder over his life decisions. Helping him along the way is
newcomer Christopher Wallace (Biggie’s son) the precocious child that
helps teach him a lesson. Again a more overused cliche couldn’t be
found but it’s done right and Wallace is a joy to watch on screen.
Rebecca Hall as the pregnant neighbor who befriends Ferrell while he's camping on the lawn is a pleasant surprise as well holding her own against the star's incredible energy.
On Ferrell’s performance: It's by no means revolutionary for the craft of acting but is a breakout turn for the funny man. A more traditional dramatic actor could’ve lazily walked through the script and come out fine on the other end but Ferrell's portrayal is stark raw and real. You know the Will Ferrell scream? Imagine someone doing that not because it's funny but because it's their only means of expressing emotion. That’s what he does in this movie. He took the energy he employs in his comedies to reach new manic heights and channeled it into the darkest corners of the human psyche. The closest thing we can compare it to is Stranger Than Fiction since it's his only other dramatic role worthy of note (in that it's something most people know about and can compare to) but that film had a strong narrative hook that took care of all the whimsy so Ferrell could just be “normal.” Everything Must Go doesn’t have the benefit of that hook so Ferrell jumps headfirst into the pits of human emotion. I highly doubt it’ll garner him any award nominations but it was pleasing to see that he can actually act. And in hindsight it makes the crazy Ferrell that much funnier.
Onto the actual film: a fairly standard black comedy and that is by no means an insult. Standard can be good as long as it’s handled well and director Rush treads through the narrative carefully. The story jumps around a bit as the characters get the inspiration they need to move on to the next plot point awfully quickly but that affords cinematographer Michael Barrett more time to capture the beautiful South West landscape. Though there isn’t anything amazing about the film it is solid movie executed really well. A refreshing change of pace for Ferrell and a delightfully dark change of mood in the doldrums of the summer blockbuster.
In the opening scene of Wristcutters we see twentysomething Zia (Patrick Fugit) cleaning his room for what appears to be the first time in ages; it’s also the last. He isn’t straightening up for a guest or for the hell of it but rather to leave a clean room behind when he slits his wrist moments later. Cut to Kamikaze Pizza the restaurant where Zia works in what he thinks is purgatory. The only way in is by committing suicide and the only way out is if there was a mismanagement in your death circumstances and you wound up there by accident. Zia hates every second of it and is happy to find someone in Eugene (Shea Whigham) with whom he can commiserate over beers at the local dive bar—which is really the only place to go anyway. The afterlife brightens up even further when Zia gets word that his ex-girlfriend back on Earth Desiree (Leslie Bibb) has offed herself too and is er descending upon the area. So Zia and Eugene go on a road trip through the most desolate highways and byways you’ve never seen in an attempt to track down Zia’s lone post-suicide regret. Along the way they pick up a hitchhiker Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon) who believes she’s there by mistake as well as a very twisted sort of enlightenment. It’s always impressive when actors are able to acutely grasp the most complex scripts and their subtext (i.e. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and the gang from Wristcutters is in that rare company. Fugit who broke out in 2000’s Almost Famous and has remained well under the radar since is the oddest of protagonists—a suicide “victim ” if you will whose afterlife you’re rooting for—and it’s hard to think of another actor who could pull off what he does here. It's because he’s somehow compellingly blasé which is obviously no easy feat and is clearly as lost post-life as he was during it. Sossamon (A Knight's Tale) is spunky quirky and unpredictable in a way that’ll be as attractive to viewers as it is to Zia. There really is something troubled and normal about her character that adds potential validity to Mikal’s claims of not belonging in this apparent purgatory. Rising star Whigham (All the Real Girls) as the heavily Russian Eugene rounds out the trio of roadtrippers with initial comic relief followed later by dramatic relief. Two of the more Bizarro performances we’ve seen in a long time come appropriately from a flying Tom Waits (whose record Zia puts on in the opening scene to die to) and Will Arnett possibly as the messiah. Who needs a huge budget when you have a huge imagination like Wristcutters’ Croatian writer/director Goran Dukic does? And what a perfect premise to have no money for because the afterlife he dreams up is a wasteland of nothingness where traffic-less roads stretch forever possibly as a punishment. But it’s not all about visuals or lack thereof in this adaptation of an Israeli short story (Kneller’s Happy Campers) by Etgar Keret even though the film’s most arresting scene features a deserted beach at sunset. See Wristcutters is a genuine romantic comedy under the guise of a grim deed and ramshackle no-budget “indie-ness”: The comedy is everywhere albeit very dry and romance is something of a Holy Grail for which the characters are unwittingly searching. But don’t write off Dukic’s effort as whimsical or obtuse because after some (literally) supernatural twists towards the end Wristcutters turns profound—in a way that is wholly unpretentious and thus surprising for an independent film.
A guy who usually doesn't have luck with the ladies Matt Saunders (Luke Wilson) has finally found the perfect girl. Egged on by his buddy Vaughn (Rainn Wilson) Matt pursues the mousy and innocent-looking Jenny Johnson (Uma Thurman) after the two meet on a subway. But Jenny has a few secrets--and what Matt doesn't know in this case can hurt him. See Jenny is really G-Girl a superhero and although it's a side most superheroes don't show G-Girl is a bit possessive and essentially has a borderline personality. So when Matt wants to dump her so he can go out with his quiet and cute co-worker Hannah (Anna Faris) Jenny er G-Girl goes ballistic. She unleashes her superpowers on Matt and unsuspecting Hannah doing things like throwing a shark through his window while they're making out tossing his car around immature things like that. What Matt doesn't do is obey the cardinal rule: Never break up with a girl when she's holding a knife--or when she can throw you through a wall by blowing on you. This should be Luke Wilson's moment to shine and he seizes it. He's had little chance to break away from his goofier-looking and more popular brother Owen and has never carried a movie as much as this one. It's perhaps his meatiest role in which he gets to show a restrained comedic side as well as a dramatic angry and perplexed side. Although it's a typical romantic comedy plot the storyline allows for more reach because of the absurd nature of the jealousy by G-Girl’s arch nemesis Professor Bedlam played perfectly by Brit comic Eddie Izzard as well as the persistently bad advice from Matt’s friend Vaughn played by scene-stealer Rainn Wilson (TV's The Office). Rainn is a definitely a talent to watch out for. Unfortunately Thurman is the biggest disappointment. She's exciting only when she rekindles her Kill Bill persona but is mostly outshined by the cute and fun Anna Faris who's so naively brilliant in the Scary Movie spoofs. Expectations would have to be high if you have director Ivan Reitman on board the guy behind such classic comedies as Animal House Ghostbusters and Dave. Perhaps that's why it's so disappointing--and so very familiar. The comic moments are retreads from the past. Sure we've seen the odd moments where mortals make it with super-human characters--Superman II Bewitched I Dream of Jeannie--and every once in a while the character with super powers gets a bit peeved and goes off the deep end. The best contribution Reitman makes is to keep the over-the-top comedic aspects in check. He doesn’t have the actors play it for laughs. But if you look at past history female superhero movies don't seem to do well at the box office (Elektra and Catwoman anyone?) maybe because guys don't like to take dates to see movies about women who will kick their butts. And guys will be cringing in their seats BIG time when Jenny is trying to analyze the real meaning of the color of a rose that she just got. "Red means that you're in love with the girl. Of course I'm not trying to pressure you." Ugh! Just take the flower.