American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
I found myself thinking during "Everything Must Go" that Will Ferrell is a gifted dramatic actor. That's sometimes the case with actors who specialize in comedy. Consider Robin Williams, Jack Lemmon, Jackie Gleason, Jim Carrey. Remember Adam Sandler in "Punch-Drunk Love." To be good in comedy, you need to be to be very skilled indeed, but talent doesn't always transfer to the heavy stuff. It's partly the matter of the physical presence. Ferrell has a presence. He reminds me sometimes of Fred MacMurray in his noir films.
"Everything Must Go" is not all the film it could have been, but is more worth seeing than a lot of other recent releases. It held my attention through Ferrell's performance as Nick Halsey, a man who drinks his way out of a job and a marriage. He isn't one of those flamboyant drunks, just a contained, dutiful man whose drinking has become the priority in his life. These are the kinds of alcoholics who break your heart: They mean to do well, they're not mean or violent, but over the years, the need for booze has moved into the foreground.
They say you need to find your bottom before you're likely to stop. Every bottom is different. Nick finds his on the front lawn of his house, along with his furniture, his clothing, his keepsakes, and his life as a man whose wife has left him. He's locked out. His credit cards don't work. He deals with this by buying some beer and settling into his La-Z-Boy recliner. Fortunately, the nights can be mild in Arizona.
The idea for the movie, written and directed by Dan Rush, is based on the Raymond Carver short story "Why Don't You Dance? " Carver was an alcoholic who lost most of the things in his life and then found them again through recovery and the love of his wife, the poet Tess Gallagher. In his story, the hero simply has a sale to sell everything he owns, which as we all know is better than dealing with the movers. In the film, the (never seen) wife is the deciding factor, but as the days and nights slide past, Nick gradually clears out not only his valued possessions but his excess inventory.