What appealed to me the most was seeing Ferrell in a similar part to the one I loved in Stranger Than Fiction, he was so good in that and much like Jim Carrey massively underused in more serious roles. There's an underlying sadness that comedians seem to be able to pull off in certain roles so much better than other actors.
Nick is a recovering alcoholic who falls off the wagon the day he loses his job, his wife and his home. He spends the rest of the movie pretty much on his front lawn trying to sell his things. It's a movie, so there's a sense of catharsis at the end, but the journey is what counts.
The movie is merely OK, a simple enough story that's been told a thousand different ways but this time it doesn't leave you reaching for the vomit bag due to a trite ending or groaning at the paint by numbers emotional responses from the characters. Subtle is not a word usually used when discussing the work of Will Ferrell but yes this movie owes a large amount of its quality to a careful underplaying of the situation from the director and a performance from Ferrell that mixes his everyman charm and humour with a nice portrait of the breaking-apart middle aged man. If only Charlie Sheen behaved this way instead of acting like the very worst Will Ferrell character on its very worst day.
Other than a Will Ferrell performance of unheard of subtlety there's the character of Kenny, (impressively played by Notorious B.I.G. Jr.) a lonely kid who befriends the flailing Nick and an AA sponsor/best friend who helps him along the way. Both characters types are cliched staples of the genre, just the mention of them fills your mind with preconceived notions of what to expect from them. Kenny is no Thurman Merman from Bad Santa, he doesn't tug at Nick's better side and his sponsor doesn't shout and weep and demand things until Nick eventually pulls through. Robin Williams doesn't turn up to repeat "it's not your fault" and Tom Cruise isn't gonna demand that he lets him "help me, help you."
This could easily have been pitched at a very different tone, casting somebody like Philip Seymour Hoffman for example you could easily see this movie becoming dark and depressing with very little hope on the horizon, whilst asking Ferrell to play to his usual strengths (if you can call them that) would have been a slapsticky disaster of overacting. Dan Rush has achieved some small success with that if nothing else.
I definitely recommend seeing this, however I can't help but think that it has no target demographic. Those of you who love the blockbusters are probably going to find this a little too slow moving and not containing enough plot whilst those indie film junkies among us aren't going to love it either as it's a little too safe. Actually it feels like a solid TV movie or something that will probably get forgotten about very quickly after the novelty/pleasure of seeing Will Ferrell allowed to act wears off.
Seen it? Planning to? Desperate for more Ferrell? Prefer to see him in Zoolander 2? Leave some blah below.