Will Ferrell tempers his rabid energy and puts on a sad, sad clown face for writer-director Dan Rush's subdued, sentimental adaptation of Raymond Carver's short story "Why Don't You Dance?" The normally frenzied comic plays Nick Halsey, a corporate shill and struggling alcoholic who loses his job, his wife and his house all in the same day. The little lady, whom we never see, lets him know how things stand by changing the locks and leaving all of her sad-sack husband's clothes, furniture and knickknacks on the lawn outside their suburban Arizona home. With a dwindling cash supply and no prospects (but a goodly amount of Pabst Blue Ribbon), Nick decides the best course of action is to stay put.
Rush shapes Carver's fable---a quick and resonant read---into a flimsy hour-and-a-half tale of rebirth rather than a piercing character study. He and Ferrell don't soften Nick's flaws, per se; the character is mostly off-putting and prickly, especially during several exchanges with a new neighbor, played by the divine Rebecca Hall. But it's clear they view him as an overall nice guy who's just lost his way ("You have a good heart, Nicholas. That doesn't change," says Laura Dern in a thudding cameo) instead of staying truer to Carver's protagonist---an enigmatic emblem of middle-age decay. By the time Nick decides to have an emotionally purgative yard sale---the primary holdover from the short story---all the adult ambiguities have been traded in for facile Indiewood profundities.
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