Will Ferrell is flawless and touching in Everything Must Go, an indie drama about a man who loses his job and his wife, and camps out on his front lawn while he figures out the future. But anyone who has seen Ferrell’s earlier dramatic films won’t be surprised at his understated emotional depth, his way of making a character affecting without any manic comic moves. Everything Must Go is uneven, but absolutely worth seeing for Ferrell (here’s my full review. )
He’s still known for brash inventive comedy, like shaving off Conan O’Brien’s beard in a comic stunt called Beardpocalypse. In fact, he has just been announced as the winner of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, and said, “I will now begin cultivating a Mark Twain-esque moustache in anticipation of the event.” (THR has the news story.)
But you won’t regret taking a look at some of his other serious – but never depressing – low-key performances.
STRANGER THAN FICTION (2006)
In this fantastic, underrated film (directed by Marc Forster, Finding Neverland) Ferrell plays against his comic type as Harold Crick, a shy, buttoned-down, I.R.S. agent who hears voices, and learns he’s a character in a novel-in-progress. The author (Emma Thompson) is having trouble killing him off, so thank goodness she’s a blocked writer. Harold develops a touching relationship with a baker played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, in a film that is lovely without ever being as twee or whimsical as its premise makes you expect.
WINTER PASSING (2005)
This hardly-known indie was written and directed by Adam Rapp, one of the best playwrights currently working. Ed Harris is a reclusive J.D. Salinger-type writer whose estranged daughter (Zooey Deschanel) visits him; Ferrell is his caretaker, a would be Christian rocker, sweet under the surface – goth eyeliner, awkward in his own skin, clumsy with women. It’s a supporting role but he deftly add touches of humor and pathos to become an essential, lively part of this quirky film.
MELINDA AND MELINDA (2004)
Ferrell’s first move into drama wasn’t highly dramatic: in Woody Allen’s film about two possible lives for one woman, a comic and a tragic version, Ferrell is on the comic side as a would-be actor throwing a dinner party with his wife (Amanda Peet). But he fits smoothly into the ensemble, and his low-key style evolved from there into accomplished starring roles later.