The year was 2005, and a quiet independent film named “Winter Passing” came to the theaters. The movie generated quite a bit of buzz among critics, as many speculated whether or not it marked a turning point in the career of Will Ferrell. “Winter Passing” was far more drama than comedy, and what laughs did exist weren’t the absurdist variety that has come to characterize Ferrell’s schtick. Was Ferrell finally going to shed his SNL past and evolve in to something more than Ron Burgundy?
But “Winter Passing” passed through theaters with virtually no critical acclaim, and Ferrell’s next major release involved a revisitation of familiar territory in 2006’s “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.” The same year, Ferrell played off type in the quirky dramedy “Stranger than Fiction.” But since that time, his releases haven’t ventured too far from his comedic safety zone.
As silly as it may sound to some, Will Ferrell is often compared to Tom Hanks. Neither have the characteristic look of a leading man, it’s not a reach to see them fit into everyman-esque roles. The comparison seems even more apt when you look at the early career of Hanks, who turned in some epically bad films (or have you forgotten “Bachelor Party” and “Volunteers”?). But eventually, Hanks found a pivot film that allowed the public to see him in a new light. That film was a highly misunderstood and grossly underappreciated flick called “Joe Versus the Volcano,” which offers layers of comedic depth beneath a thin veneer of farce.
“Joe Versus the Volcano,” which came out in 1989, was followed up by “A League of their Own,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” and “Philadelphia.” Hanks had accomplished his acting pivot, and moviegoers worldwide would never see him in the same light again.
To date, Will Ferrell has failed to find a similar pivot film, and based upon recent choices like “The Other Guys” and “Land of the Lost,” one could fairly question whether he has any professional aspirations beyond comedy. But the soon to be released “Everything Must Go” once again has people wondering whether Ferrell is about to show some depth as a performer.
“Everything Must Go,” which is scheduled for a wide release on May 13, is the story of a relapsed alcoholic who loses his job and his wife on the same day. In an effort to begin again, he moves on to his front lawn and attempts to sell all of his stuff, in the process befriending a troubled boy from his neighborhood.
The film is based upon a brilliantly minimalist short story by acclaimed writer Raymond Carver entitled “Why Don’t You Dance?” The fact that Ferrell’s latest project is sourced from such cerebral material has me optimistic that the actor is looking to push his career in to uncharted territory. Perhaps “Everything Must Go” can transform Ferrell in ways that “Winter Crossing” and “Stranger than Fiction” failed to do. Count me as one who’s optimistic that there’s more depth to Ferrell than he has allowed us to see so far.