Nick Halsey (Will Ferrell) has had better days. After getting fired from the job he's barely been trying at for months, he comes home to find the locks on his house changed and all of his stuff on the front lawn. His wife won't answer the phone and so Nick does what any reasonable person would do: he gets drunk and passes out in the recliner under his tree. With the help of his cop friend and AA sponsor Frank (Michael Pena), Nick is given a few days to hold a garage sale and clear his eyesore of a yard. He pays a neighbor boy (Christopher Jordan Wallace) to assist in the sale but when it comes to actually closing a deal, he finds that he's unwilling to let go of the life that got away from him and therefore the items he's collected. And as he witnesses his new neighbor (Samantha) going through the same troubles that plagued his relationship with his wife, Nick begins to evaluate his life differently and accept responsibility for where he has ended up.
The thing that people don't always understand about Will Ferrell is that the guy is a very talented actor. Non-Ferrell fans see the "man-child" persona that he owns so incredibly well in his most popular films and they write him off as a buffoon who lacks the ability to do anything more advanced. But the man-child is only half the story and while Ricky Bobby and Buddy the Elf might be his more well-known characters (outside of Ron Burgundy, an entirely different kind of man-child), they don't properly display Ferrell's greatness. If you fixate on those characters, you might miss, for instance, his incredible straight-man performance in the lackluster film The Other Guys or the fact that almost everything he does is unscripted and off-the-cuff. He is quite possibly the most talented player that Saturday Night Live has ever had and what sets him apart is his extreme versatility, his ability to nail the physical side of comedy in one turn and then become a rigidly straight edge in the next. Dramatic (or dramedy) roles don't come Ferrell's way too often but when they do, I always look forward to his work and expect it will bring a few more people over to my side in recognizing his merit.
Everything Must Go is just this side of a one man show. Everyone around Ferrell is there only to push his character in one direction or another, to help him or hurt him or help him by hurting him (which is the most common narrative). Nick is at his heart a good person who simply got lost somewhere along the way, a sentiment many of us can understand. He has become so consumed by his own shortcomings that he can no longer believe that he is anything but a failure, completing a very sad but very common vicious cycle. Essentially, he just can't get out of his own way and he doesn't know who he is anymore. All of this comes across plain as day thanks to the depth of Ferrell's portrayal. I felt while watching that I knew this man despite his being a fictional creation and the fact that I'd only spent a few short minutes of screen time with him. Ferrell gives Nick enough of a sense of humor to keep the film from dragging but unlike many of his past characters, Nick is not inherently funny; neither, however, is he tragic. That's a tough row to hoe in my mind but in doing so, Ferrell makes Nick inherently likable, a character that you root for in a very organic manner. It's the type of performance that I would love to drag out and force Ferrell Haters to watch in order to show the man's range.
Unfortunately, almost everything else about EMG is unequal to the work of the star. As I said, it's a one man show so I am inclined to give the rest of the cast a break because they aren't given much to work with. Hall and Jordan Wallace get the most attention and both do well enough in their limited scenes but each are completely overshadowed by Ferrell at almost every turn. One scene in particular finds the nasty side of Nick, a lashing out of powerful proportions that should be a key moment in the film. Instead, it falls somewhat flat because Samantha simply doesn't seem to be up to the task of properly challenging Nick. EMG falls into some "curmudgeon-changes-his-tune" traps and contains more than a few cliches that really could have been avoided. More importantly, the other characters who knew Nick before his garage sale are all terrible people. From his boss to his wife, his neighbor to his friends, all of them come across as total jerks. I think the film, and Nick himself, would have been better served by supporting characters who appeared to be real humans (like Nick is) rather than miserable caricatures. That's more than a bit frustrating to me, a huge Ferrell fan, because while his performance is strong enough to draw attention to his skill, the film as a whole is somewhat forgettable. Altogether, EMG is worth watching but it isn't the reputation-changing film that it could have been.