Will Ferrell has a new face in his Google image library of white-trash sportsmen, b-list celebs and frat boys - that of a hopeless drunk. Not a shot-gunning-a-can-of-Pabst-Blue-Ribbon-shortly-before-running-down-the-high-street-nekkid drunk, but a genuine, bona-fide on-the-skids douchebag. A man who has lost the lot.
Comedians venturing away from the safe confine of their comedy is a path fraught with peril. For every Jerry Lewis (‘King Of Comedy’) and Bill Murray (‘Lost In Translation’) there’s a Jim Carrey winding his tortoise neck in after the miserable ‘Number 23’ (although his performance in ‘Eternal Sunshine…’ was OK). Get it right, and the world opens up. Get it wrong and you’re consigned to a world of CGI penguins and talking wolves.
On paper, the worlds of frat-pack funnyman Will Ferrell and American short-story telling, bourbon-necking master of the extra-ordinary Raymond Carver seem worlds apart. One deals with the glorious, drunken belly flop into life’s idiocy, the other has a slide pointing straight down into an empty swimming pool of broken bottles. Yet, Ferrell’s role in the film adaptation of Raymond Carver’s ‘Why Don’t You Dance?’ - titled 'Everything Must Go' - could just be a game changer for the doofus with the funny face.
‘Why Don’t You Dance?’ Is Carver’s happy/sad circuitous glimpse into the ending of one drunk’s life, as a young couple’s begins (as they sort through his yard-sale possessions laid out like on the lawn like an alfresco home); and is regarded as one of the late writer’s most powerful pieces. The opening gambit for the collection ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’ the yard sale vignette just about says it all, in just a few hundred, beautifully selected words. Love, loss, hope, death, the tale warms and chills in equal measure. It’s so easy to see, as you glide through it.
Many of Carver’s tales have a filmic quality. Often it’s more what he shows, than what his characters say. Indeed many of Carver’s creations are profoundly mute when confronted by life, as the young female is at the end of this particular short story. Robert Altman’s multi-stranded ‘Short Cuts’ went some way in bringing the big screen to Carver’s work, but ‘Everything Must Go’ is a much more personal ‘take’, although Carver’s tale is merely the springboard for what has been built up around it. Not an obvious project then, for the man who played jazz flute as 70s newscaster Ron Burgundy.
Ferrell is a revelation playing against type, and seems totally at home with a character that for once doesn’t get to escape the consequences of his self-indulgent actions.
Ferrell’s Nick Halsey is in a jam. He has lost his job, and family due to an unnamed ‘incident in Denver’. Halsey is also an alcoholic who needs to get his hands on some money. Fast. Ferrell is a revelation playing against type, and seems totally at home with a character that for once doesn’t get to escape the consequences of his self-indulgent actions. Expertly treading the white line of ‘convincing drunk’ with aplomb, Ferrell draws on his rare ability to engender sympathy from the most unsympathetic characters in this straight-to-DVD gem. As the credits roll, you do wonder if there may be more to this fool, than you first thought.
Many of Ferrell’s finest comic creations ‘Elf’, ‘Ron Burgundy’ and ‘Ricky Bobby’ are deliciously daft all, but there is something else. Unlike Jim Carrey’s rather cartoony guises, Ferrell’s finest roles can disgust and deplore whilst still able to childishly yank at the heart strings. Gene Wilder and Steve Martin were experts at getting this balance right on the big screen during the 70s and 80s, whilst Chevy Chase rarely strayed from ‘goofball’. If Ferrell continues to play it cute – as he does in ‘Everything Must Go’ – who knows, maybe he could pack up the beer bong for good.
The essence of Ferrell’s success seems to lie in his amazing ability to convince as a middle-aged man-cub. With most of his male audience still obsessing over Star Wars figures and video games Ferrell has become a figurehead of the middle-aged trainer-wearing inner child openly weaned on millions of websites and in thousands of comic-book stores across the western world. So boyish are Ferrell’s features one might imagine they’ve not changed a jot since his high school yearbook. It’s as if Ferrell has marched straight out of the 80s as a Braveheart figure to a male generation who will not relinquish their right to bear X-box controllers. ‘You will have to rip them from our cold, dead, workshy, smooth-as-a-baby’s-butt hands!’
The deadpan incredulity he displays in ‘Step Brothers’, the heart-warming innocence of ‘Elf’ (which must be the funniest kids film ever) and the self-pity of anchorman Ron Burgundy, are joyous. Will Ferrell’s face is pure amusement and a raised eyebrow can change the course of a scene.
Ferrell very rarely breaks the deadpan spell either - like a child who sees absolutely no mirth in his ice cream falling from its cone and plopping onto a sandal. Often spiteful, and teary-eyed, Ferrell’s idiots are deluded into believing they’re right. Guess you could say that Will Ferrell, the man who convinced us all as George W Bush on Saturday Night Live – sublimely embodies another equally-flawed soul. The United States of America.
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