First-time feature-length director Dan Rush (known for his commercial work) must have naked pictures of some studio execs' off-hours, off-marriage tryst. Either that or his screenplay for "Everything Must Go," an adaptation of a four-page Raymond Carver story must have ruled. Considering the subtle, mannered, funny, yet not-broad dramedy that stars the very excellent cast of Will Ferrell, Rebecca Hall, Laura Dern, Michael Peña, Stephen Root and newcomer Christopher Jordan Wallace, we're thinking the latter.
A small and minimalist, but not slight, story, the film centers on an alcoholic veteran sales manager (Ferrell) who relapses and this discretion causes him to lose his job. Fed up, his wife also leaves him, dumps all his belongings on his front lawn and, in an attempt to start over, he holds a yard sale to purge himself of everything he holds dear. A few neighbors might be the key to his return to form including his AA sponsor and homicide detective friend (Peña), an African-American boy who takes interest in the yard sale (Wallace) and an isolated, pregnant woman who has moved across the country on her own (Hall).
Touching upon themes of friendship, loneliness, the yearning for connection, materialism, cathartic expunging and more, the melancholy picture is carefully observed and quiet, and tenderly examines human behavior from a soft and unforced distance. It's not mute by any means, but the wry and understated picture almost makes the somewhat-similar "Stranger Than Fiction" look like a mainstream comedy by comparison. Playlist writer Leah Zak recently got the chance to speak with Ferrell, Rush and newcomer Wallace and gleaned several interesting details about the making of the film, including the fact that the everything about the picture seemed small: from its truncated and almost-hurried shoot, to the mere four pages from which the story was adapted. Here's what else we learned about "Everything Must Go."
Minor spoilers below, but nothing major.
The cast and crew of "Everything Must Go" did not have the luxury of time. The picture was a quick shoot on every level with little time for rehearsals or time to bond or get acquainted. Fortunately the boy in the film was on point from day one.
"We didn’t have a ton of time together before we started filming," Ferrell said about the lack of bonding time with him and Christopher Jordan Wallace, the character the he befriends and perhaps mentors. Or is that the other way around? "We rehearsed a little bit, but that’s kind of what we saw in auditioning with Christopher is it seemed like he was already so grounded and mature in a way that would help us," Ferrell said. "A lot of scenes that you see in the film were maybe four or five takes. We didn’t have the luxury of time or film stock and all of these forces going against us that we just had to make sure that we had someone that felt like they could kind of, you know, start at level ten on take one and I think that’s really a credit to actually how good CJ is.
Some of the yard sale is based on actual research.
"One of the scenes actually in the movie, where the guy buys mouthwash is based on a true story," Dan Rush said. "I live in Santa Monica, which is like yard sale capital of the country it seems like and my brother in law and sister would hold these huge yard sales and I would go to them. It’s amazing what sells, like it would be like a piece of that recorder or literally people would come and buy a quarter bottle of vodka or mouthwash. So that came from a real story, it sounds crazy."
The Raymond Carver short story that "Everything Must Go" was based on was short. Like, four pages short.
"We expanded it a bit," Rush laughed. "It’s always a story that I’ve loved and it had this image that I couldn’t shake which was this guy living on his lawn outside as he grew inside. There’s like this rear window reversal thing that I always thought was fascinating. It was a perfect moment, perfect storm of conflict, crisis, so it was a great thing to kind of put a stake in the ground and go okay, how did this guy get here, and where do we go from here? But the short was a great start and they were made shorter by his editor often."
Alcoholism was carefully addressed in the story, but the filmmakers and Will Ferrell didn't want to make it broad or comedic.
"Will an I talked a lot about that," Rush said. "At a certain point we were talking about levels of drunkenness and how we were going to play it. We’d both agreed he was a guy who was an alcoholic who drank but he could have conversations, he might slur a little, but he was a functional alcoholic. And we never really wanted to play it so that he was sloppy. I think it was kind of a conscious intention to downplay it."
"I don’t think you can sit down and begin to read a piece of material like this and start earmarking it with like. 'this should be funny,' " Ferrell said when asked if he ever felt the temptation to make the film funnier. "Like, 'I should barf on myself here, that should spice it up.' It’s just, it’s evident from the beginning what the tone’s going to be and that’s what you put in your mind and so you think of it as a serious piece and we were including the playing of drunk, we just, we were very cognizant of avoiding having any false moments and we didn’t want the comedy to come organically in a way too and never feel forced or pushed."
Will Ferrell was happy that the relationship in the picture between him and Rebecca Hall didn't go the obvious way.
"That was another thing that I loved about the script," he said. "Here was this relationship, that in a more typical Hollywood movie they would fall in love, and it feels like it’s getting to that edge in a very real way, it doesn’t ever cross that line. It's almost symbolic of that dance at the end of the film, it really is a dance [their relationship]. They’re consoling each other, helping each other, kind of being critical of each other too. And yet they don’t cross that line of intimacy and yet there’s something intimate going on between them. So I just thought that was really kind of masterfully done on the script level and we tried to be true to that."
12 step alcohol programs sometimes have an oft-not-discussed, but well-known 13th step.
"Let me figure out the best way to answer this," Rush said gingerly. "I’m not a part of that program, but in my research that has happened. It’s happened enough that that's the term for it and I think it’s a really interesting relationship whenever you have that sponsor, sponsee relationship. When you have someone who’s dependent on somebody and it can be I think very useful but it can be taken advantage of just like anything else, so it’s a term that exists." Is that vague? Yes, we'll leave it at that, but it's right here if you want to look it up.
If you want "Anchorman II," Ferrell says you're going to have to yell at Paramount.
"You really have to assert some sort of hate mail campaign to Paramount Pictures because they have told us, quote unquote that they’ve run the numbers and it’s not a good fit, quote unquote," he said, slightly annoyed. "They're being jackasses."
Dan Rush is working on a new film project, but he's pretty tight-lipped because he's superstitious about it.
"What I’m writing now is not an adaptation," he said before pausing. "I never talk about it because I’ve known for a long time that as soon as I start talking about something I stop working on it." Will Ferrell concurred and said he too was sometimes superstitious about discussing not fully signed and sealed projects. "It’s hard talking about future [projects] because it seems like as soon as you mention something it goes away," he said. "It’s almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy or a curse in a way, you tend to get reluctant to ever talk about anything except for the day before filming."
Will Ferrell's stint on "The Office?" He's leaving the direction up to the creative team. And no, going dark is not his new thing.
"I just left it up to that writing staff to create whatever it was they wanted to create and that’s kind of what they chose," Ferrell said of his mean-spirited character on the show. "And in terms of 'Everything Must Go', this whole process happened probably two years ago when I first met Dan and read the script and regardless of whether it was darker or this or that it was just such a unique project and a new challenge for me and something I really wanted to try."
"Everything Must Go" lands in limited release this Friday, May 13.