Will Ferrell as Nick Halsey
Christopher Jordan Wallace as Kenny Loftus
Rebecca Hall as Samantha
Laura Dern as Delilah
Michael Peña as Frank Garcia
Glenn Howerton as Gary
Shannon Whirry as Nurse
Jason Spisak as Hipster
Leslea Fisher as Skinny White Girl
Directed by Dan Rush
After losing his job, salesman Nick Halsey (Will Ferrell) learns his wife has left him, but not before she dumps all his belongings onto the front yard of their house. Not wanting to do anything but drown his sorrows in beer, Nick sits back in his recliner, becoming friends with a local boy named Kenny (Christopher Wallace) and a woman moving in across the street (Rebecca Hall). They help Nick come to terms with his new status as he’s forced to sell his belongings in a yard sale in order to not get arrested.
In this day and age, a movie about how one copes with losing one’s job wouldn’t be that odd as we’ve seen a number of strong post-crash dramas like Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air” and John Wells’ “The Company Men.” Based on the short story “Why Don’t You Dance” by Raymond Carver, Dan Rush’s impressive debut allows Will Ferrell to break away from his often-annoying schtick to do something more serious, and it’s easily his best performance since Marc Forster’s “Stranger Than Fiction.”
Of course, those expecting the usual Will Ferrell yucks might be shocked to see him playing a more subdued version of his “Old School” character “Frank the Tank,” as he tries to get money for beer after being tossed out of his house by his wife in the rudest manner possible. Nick’s AA sponsor, a police detective played by Michael Peña, tells him the only way he can stay in his yard is by holding a yard sale. Much of the film deals with Nick’s relationship with the young introverted boy in the neighborhood who he hires to help him sell all of his stuff. Moving in across the street is a pregnant woman played by Rebecca Hall, who finds herself having to do that move alone with her husband too busy to help.
We’ve seen movies taking a lighter approach to a tough subject and failing miserably–case in point being Jodie Foster’s “The Beaver”–but Rush’s movie is quite refreshing in the way it helps you to relate to Nick’s situation even when he’s acting dour and negative, his only motivation to get money to buy more beer.
While this isn’t a comedy per se, there are plenty of humorous moments. It’s sometimes hard to remain invested in the story because it moves at such a slow pace, but Ferrell has the charisma to carry it even when it gets dark, and Ferrell has a way of being quite likeable when he’s not acting ridiculous. Rush surrounds him with a fairly unconventional and eclectic cast, but each brings something to the table to keep the movie from turning into a one-man show. Rebecca Hall gives another strong performance, as does the young Christopher Wallace, and Stephen Root offers some funny moments as a disapproving neighbor who Nick is able to blackmail for help.
The film does get quite dark at times as one would expect from a movie about alcoholism but it’s counter-balanced by a number of touching moments, such as when Nick finds his old yearbook and decides to visit an old girlfriend, played by Laura Dern. It’s a really nice touch.
For the most part, this isn’t a mainstream dramedy by any means, and it never relies on normal filmmaking formulas. It’s especially impressive that Rush resists the temptation to ever actually show Nick’s wife. It could have led to some powerful dramatically-charged moments, but it also would have taken the focus off Nick.
The movie does have a few problems like its strange reality in which Nick’s cell phone is turned off and his car is repossessed immediately after being let go, which doesn’t seem credible. One also wonders why if Nick’s wife left him, she’d throw all his stuff out on the lawn then change the locks. She’s already left him and the house, so that just seems like adding insult to injury, but there wouldn’t be much of a movie without that important plot device.
The Bottom Line:
Those expecting another Will Ferrell yuckfest may be disappointed, but anyone who’s ever hit a low in their own lives can find inspiration in how his character overcomes obstacles and pulls himself up from rock bottom.