Day Drunk, by Matt Warren
The key difference between dramatic movie actors and their comedic counterparts is that unlike the leading men who seem practically groomed for stardom from birth, thanks to some innate combination of impeccable bone structure and superhuman self-confidence, comedy stars tend to sneak into the spotlight from the margins, arriving onscreen with most of their physical and behavioral ticks relatively intact. That’s what makes comedians so relatable: their flaws. We’re awed by megawatt smiles of Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, but see more of ourselves in the potbellies and slapstick clumsiness of people like Jack Black. And we’re often far more attached to our comedians to our great, grand thespians, feeling protective of people like Zach Galifianakis in a ways we simply don’t about Christian Bale.
In a roughly 15 year career, Will Farrell has made the transition from yeoman SNL cast member to beloved mainstream comedy superstar, all the while maintaining a seemingly incorruptible core of approachability. It helps that, at first glance, he appears so literally edgeless; forever appearing as the doughy Irvine, CA bank teller he once was. It’s what makes his manic comedic outbursts so jarringly explosive and effective. Farrell puts his pale bloat to good use in the excellent new dramedy Everything Must Go, in which he deftly slips into the skin of a dead-end alcoholic fumbling his way toward redemption.
Based on the Raymond Carver short story “Why Don’t You Dance?”, Everything follows a few days in the life of disgraced salesman Nick Halsey, The film begins with Nick already in freefall. There’s been some unpleasantness during a recent business trip with a colleague, leading to his termination at the hands of an oily supervisor played with shitbag aplomb by It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Glenn Howerton. Blackout drunk at the time, Nick can’t recall, exactly, what the incident was, or, indeed, if there even was an incident, but because of his condition he’s in no position to argue. Unemployed and without use of the company car, Nick retreats to his suburban Arizona home and discovers that his wife has left him. And to add insult to injury to injury, he finds the locks have been changed and his belongings moved outdoors onto the front lawn—the Lay-Z-Boy, hi-fi, vintage Playboy collection. Even Nick’s George Forman Grill. Looking over the wreckage of his life, Nick copes the only way he knows how: by drinking himself into oblivion.
Which brings up an interesting question about product placement. Nick’s intoxicant of choice is good old Pabst Blue Ribbon, which he drinks continuously and exclusively throughout pretty much the entire film, with the logo always unobstructed and faced toward the camera. I assume the Miller Brewing Company paid handsomely for the privilege of having the lead character in a major motion picture use their beer to bleakly circle the drain, but what was that pitch meeting like? “Sure, this movie depicts our product as nothing so much as a life-destroying sadness elixir, from which no man will ever be free from upon taking that first bitter sip, but hey! What brand exposure!”
Anyway, despite continuing to loose his grip, Nick manages to befriend Kenny, a shy, black, heavyset neighbor kid played by Christopher Jordan Wallace, son of the Notorious B.I.G. Guileless, Kenny makes himself useful to Nick by running a variety of errands in exchange for Nick’s service as a baseball coach, and precociously absorbing Nick’s hard-sale salesman skills. Nick also meets Samantha, the new neighbor across the street, played by a very lovely, very pregnant Rebecca Hall. Nick and Samantha’s tentative new friendship becomes a little bumpy, however, as it becomes clear that Samantha’s absent husband may himself be an alcoholic, with Nick emerging as a sort of unsettling, omnipresent Ghost of Christmas Future.
Also: Laura Dern as Nick’s old High School crush, who he hopes to reconnect with in a desperate bit to seek reassurance of his own basic humanity, and Michael Peña in as Nick’s weary AA sponsor, who is clearly wrestling his own demons. Though it offers no easy answers, it’s not much of a spoiler to say that the move culminates in the metaphorically unsubtle yard sale of film’s title. It’s a touching little film, more sad than funny, earning every emotional response honestly and effectively.
It’s also—and this is important—the most truthful film about alcoholism I’ve ever seen. Movies like The Lost Weekend and Leaving Las Vegas turn their depictions of alcoholism to eleven, pushing everything to romantic, operatic extremes. But Everything captures what it actually feels like to drink. Writer/director Dan Rush, in his feature debut, uses every tool in the filmmaker’s to toolbox to capture the actual, tactile sense of what it feels like to muddle down into an alcoholic sinkhole. And Farrell conveys the Alcoholic’s sense of foggy-headed, heavy-lidded dread with blunt effectiveness. It’s a great, honest performance that works far better than Farrell’s tonally similar turn in the 2006’s mediocre Stranger Than Fiction. This man just looks tired; it breaks your heart.
So. As you maybe inferred from my full-throated endorsement of the Everything Must Go’s authenticity, I too am an alcoholic. One who may or may not be “recovered” or “recovering” (whatever that means) at the time you read this. Who knows, maybe you’re reading deep into the future, with flying cars and 10mg Salisbury steak pills and a free Quebec and whatever. Maybe there’s no such a thing as alcoholics where you are. But there are here, and there’s still a certain stigma attached to people like me. Which is why I debated for a long time as to what extent I was going to incorporate my own experiences into this review. I’ll mostly skirt the issue, but I think it’s important for anyone who may be interested in seeing this film to know that, in the opinion of an expert, Everything gets it right. Rush nails the little details, like the glee with which the alcoholic arranges a perfect stack of 12 oz. cans in the fridge, or the way, at restaurants, he covetously eyes the sweaty amber pint glasses held heavy in the hands of ungrateful Normals.
Not that it’s a flawless movie. The relationship between Nick and Samantha is a little clumsy and contrived at times, and the great Stephen Root pops up here in a role as Nick’s A-hole neighbor that seems on loan from a much broader, shittier movie. And visually, the Rush’s palette can be a little bland. But in lighting and ambience, Rush captures the arid oppressiveness of the film’s Southwestern setting well. It’s the worst kind of weather for a drunk. Dry weather.
But this is a good movie. You should see it. Don’t go thirsty.