Directed by Dan Rush
Starring Will Ferrell, Rebecca Hall, Michael Peña, Laura Dern, Christopher Jordan Wallace, Stephen Root
Written by Dan Rush based on the short story “Why don’t you dance?” by Raymond Carver
My first experience with Raymond Carver stories was in the Robert Altman near masterpiece Short Cuts, which joined several of his stories into one overwhelmingly depressing state of affairs of Los Angeles in the early ’90’s. This second foray has been done twice, now. Once, a short movie called Everything Goes, starring Hugo Weaving and Abbie Cornish. I have not seen that, but would sure like to. This second attempt, seems a lot softer than anything I saw in Short Cuts, but it goes down easy while still addressing some of the major points.
The story, as it unfolds, has Nick Halsey coming into work, getting fired, taking a measure of revenge, having a few drinks, heading home and finding his wife has placed everything on the lawn, locking him out of their house, after she herself has left. This last measure seems more a literary gimmick than anything, as years of watching Judge Judy have shown me most people would not go through the effort involved (beyond changing the locks) until legally required to do so. Given the willing suspension of disbelief, the premise opens the door for Nick to open his life (and drinking problem) to his neighbors, earning their judgement, their kindness and, in the case of Kenny, played innocently by Wallace, inquisitiveness.
What follows is somewhat predictable. His sponsor, Frank (the always good Peña) comes by, trying subtly to give him a clue to where he is, what he is facing. He ignores him, because it’s too early in the process of his self-discovery, and, we know, too early in the film. The discovery is helped along by his new neighbor, the pregnant Samantha (Hall). Samantha is waiting for her husband to follow her in this move. He is currently putting her off. This is necessary as a mirror image for Nick’s own situation. Where it goes, the viewer can decide.
As Nick, Will Ferrell is very much up to the task. If there is a complaint, it would be that he is not pushed real hard by the contents of the plot. There is never a sense that this guy is really living in an act of desperation, on his lawn. They avoid some clichés, to be sure, but then, they also have some inexplicably repeated scenes (sprinklers) to absolutely zero comic or dramatic effect.
Similarly, the back and forth between Nick and Kenny seems rooted in many other adult / young adult films we’ve seen. It is a sign of courage, to make Nick a pretty decent drunk guy, who is overall kind and reasonable with the youth. It seems, though, a little disconnected from the same man fueled by booze making decisions that would push his wife to leave. How much one gets from this is entirely up to the viewer and their own experience.
The rest of the story does not vary from formula. There is an old flame kept to a minimum, a betrayal, an acceptance of one’s own role in their fate. Responsibility is what one would expect from any Farrell character, but Carver’s typical character? Not so sure.
Rush keeps the action and the laughs to a slow burn. His script seems molded by the personnel, rather than vise versa. While it is not necessarily a bad thing at all. I am not sure it leaves that much of an impression.
(*** out of *****)