Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Change Would Do You Good: Everything Must Go

I know it's all marketing and hype, but I'm an absolute sucker for a good tagline.  Four or five carefully chosen words can be all it takes to transform my moviegoing mindset from "maybe, if I'm bored" to "definitely, first week it's out!"  I know I'm being manipulated, but when it's done well, I happily submit.

Not long ago, the poster for Everything Must Go, the second film in the genre of Will Ferrell Can Be Serious, Y'all, went up at my friendly neighborhood indie theatre.  The tagline?  "Lost Is a Good Place to Find Yourself."

Me?  Sold.

In 2006, I graduated from law school and accepted a job at a Chicago firm.  Exactly two months after I started, I was let go.  I went from being the textbook young urban professional to a girl adrift, without a plan or a way to pay my rent.

It was one of the best years of  my life.

I walked around a lot, reacquainting myself with a city I'd left five years before.  I hung out with my struggling actor/waiter roommate and scavenged for cheap eats, drinks, and entertainment.  I worked temp and retail jobs (luckily, this was before the economy collapsed).  I reevaluated everything, and ended up changing my career focus entirely.

To an outside observer, I was never more lost.  To my close friends, I was never more excited to be alive.

Based on a short story by Raymond Carver, Everything Must Go is nothing particularly new or groundbreaking, but it explores the liberated lost soul in a quiet, lovely manner.  Will Ferrell is at his craggiest as Nick Halsey, a former top salesman and recovering alcoholic who quickly relapses after he is fired for inconsistent job performance and a questionable business-trip escapade.  On the very same day, Nick returns home to find his wife has left him, changed the locks, and thrown all his wordly possessions on the lawn.  When Nick's sponsor and neighborhood cop (Michael Pena, also very good in the middling The Lincoln Lawyer) informs him that Nick has five days to vacate his front lawn, Nick decides to hold a yard sale, much to the curiosity of a pregnant neighbor (Rebecca Hall) and an outcast kid who just wants to play baseball (Christopher Jordan Wallace, son of Faith Evans and the late Biggie Smalls).

Sure, there are a lot of indie tropes at play here: the lovable loser, the pretty artsy chick, the renegade youngster who teaches everyone an important lesson.  There's even a happy-go-lucky blast from the past in the form of Laura Dern, who has a sweet if slightly cloying cameo as Nick's former high school classmate.  That said, even the most predictable cliche of predictable cliches can be incredbly effective if done well.  (Many argue there are only five stories to be told anyway: the magic is in the telling.)  I appreciated how Nick wasn't a pure victim of circumstance: he'd been in and out of rehab several times, and let himself get into a sticky situation with a female colleague.  It's not surprising that he wasn't a good husband, and he's not instantly redeemed.  There's an edge to Ferrell's performance: the humor is sharp, the anger and bitterness palpable.  Many comedians have sad, dark undertones as performers, and Ferrell plays these to the hilt.

What I also appreciated was the film's ending: I won't spoil anything, but let's just say it doesn't wrap up neatly with a bow on top.  Nick still has a ways to go and a lot to reevaluate.  However, I believed he would be okay.

I'm grateful not to be lost anymore.  I'm even more grateful to be employed, to be able to pay my bills and stay afloat in a world where many are struggling.  That said, I'm most grateful for the time I got lost.  Like the ever-effective tagline said, it was the best place to get found.


  1. This is a great post that I think a lot of people can relate to. I think that we learn a lot more from our struggles than our successes, because struggling teaches us how to survive. I try to keep that in mind while I work hard just to keep up with everyone else in grad school.

  2. Sounds very decent, and hello Laura Dern! Where's she been hiding? I too appreciate a good tagline. And a good tagine, too, while I think about it...