Prior to seeing his revelatory performance in the new indie dramedy Everything Must Go, we hadn’t realized that, other than 2006’s oft-forgotten Stranger Than Fiction, Will Ferrell had yet to play an actual person.

complex-review-everything-must-goSure, he’s always portrayed humans in the skin-and-bone sense. But, if you really think about, the comedy heavyweight has embodied one caricature after another. Not that we’re bitching about it or anything; when Ferrell’s on, he’s the funniest guy working in the throng of actors known for playing dumbass man-children. Yet, take a deeper look at Ron Burgundy (2004’s Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy), or Ricky Bobby (2006’s Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby), or any of his other high-concept comedy roles—they’re all basically flesh-and-blood cartoon characters.

As much as we love most of Ferrell’s idiotic flicks (it’s best to just ignore the existences of Semi-Pro and Land Of The Lost), his work in Everything Must Go is convincing enough to instill one with hopes of more grown-up fare for the former Saturday Night Live cast member. Nuanced and quietly rendered, Ferrell’s performance is a complete 180 from everything else he’s ever done. For once, he’s playing an average guy, a relatable man without delusions of grandeur or elementary-aged maturity.

Behold Will Ferrell, The Restrained Thespian—Seriously

The film’s writer and director, Dan Rush, took a real chance in casting Ferrell, Hollywood’s perennial goof; the role, that of a sad man who lives on his front lawn after losing his job and having all of his possessions tossed outside by his disgruntled wife, is one you’d much more quickly associate with a Paul Giamatti, or, say, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Ferrell is an inspired choice, though, able to inject humor into the most pathetic of situations without resorting to his usual moronic wig-outs. His character, Nick Halsey, is a multi-layered fuck-up. In addition to getting fired at work and losing his wife, Nick is also a longtime alcoholic who tears through cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon like they were quarter-waters.

Everything Must GoRaymond Carver

Christopher “C.J.” WallaceBiggieEverything Must Go

In Everything Must Go, Simplicity Is Key

complex-review-everything-must-go-cj-wallaceThough it’s his feature film debut, Rush guides Everything Must Go into rich emotional territory with wonderful ease. It’s not a show film in the least, and that’s what’s so noteworthy about it: Rush just lets his character breathe. The conflicts are all resolved without any unnecessary fireworks, particularly a subplot involving Ferrell’s interactions with a new, pregnant neighbor, Samantha (played more than adequately by the ever-cute Rebecca Hall). When Nick’s depression takes over, he lashes out at the compassionate Samantha, who’s experiencing similar marital woes of her own, with a matter-of-factness that’s sneaky in its impact. And, as a result, Ferrell further exhibits acting chops previously unseen, or even suspected.

At the beginning of a summer season promising loud action and massive spectacles, Everything Must Go is a welcomed surprise. Patient in its storytelling and true-to-life with its character development, Rush’s tender little flick is a poignant, sad, and funny examination of life’s darker times, and how a little bit of self-reflection can go a long way. Bet you weren’t expecting a Will Ferrell movie to earn such a description, huh?