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With: Hugo Weaving, Abbie Cornish, Sullivan Stapleton
Written by: Andrew Kotatko, based on a short story by Raymond Carver
Directed by: Andrew Kotatko
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 18
Date: 06/14/2004

Everything Goes (2004)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Yard Knocks

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The great American short story writer Raymond Carver published his story "Why Don't You Dance" in 1981, and died in 1988. In 2004, the Australian director Andrew Kotatko adapted it for the superb 18-minute short film Everything Goes (starring Hugo Weaving and Abbie Cornish). I praised that film in a newspaper article and subsequently became friends with Kotatko. Later, I helped write liner notes for a DVD release that would never come, mainly because Will Ferrell's company bought the American feature film rights to the story. It is now being released under the suspiciously similar title Everything Must Go. For posterity, here are the liner notes I submitted to Kotatko in 2005.

The short story is known for its compact form, weeding out all unnecessary filler and fat. But at the same time it can't constrict; it must breathe and pulse. If Raymond Carver is one of the modern masters of the form, then Andrew Kotatko's short film Everything Goes -- based on Carver's Why Don't You Dance? -- is a perfect visual encapsulation of everything that makes a short story great.

Ray (Hugo Weaving, of The Matrix and V for Vendetta fame) watches his wife (Nikki Bennett) walk out on him. She gracefully waves to him from the back seat of her cab; he starts to wave back, but turns the gesture into a brushing back of his hair. She fires back a glance of death. This is economy. So far, none of Carver's magnificent words are even needed.

Ray fancies himself a cowboy; he's even written a Western-sounding manuscript that he unceremoniously files in a box while hauling his wife's belongings out onto the lawn for an "everything goes" sale. He will not face the tragedy of his situation. He has already started drinking before the morning light has reached the windows of his house.

A young couple, Brianie (the dazzling Abbie Cornish, looking straight out of Nicole Kidman's gene pool) and Jack (Sullivan Stapleton) stop at the yard sale. Or rather, Brianie orders Jack to stop. She calls the shots on everything. She must even ask Jack to kiss her. They make offers on a few items, and Ray offers them drinks. They keep drinking well after the light has gone, replaced by the colored, Chinese lamps decorating his yard. Kotatko understands light; he knows when to pause to show fingers of sunlight passing over the house, or to show Ray in the evening, clicking on a reading light to illuminate the makeshift outdoor living room.

When this trio is good and pissed, dancing to old records right there on the lawn, Brianie begs her boyfriend to dance with her (he's too drunk). Ray, however, needs no such prompting. It's here that Kotatko's deft use of music, light and character comes together with a breathless lift of the spirit.

But this is Carver, after all, and the damage has been done -- or rather the damage has been revealed -- by this random encounter, this innocuous afternoon. Even if Carver's tragic characters are incapable of making true connections, at least they still understand their own hearts. Kotatko leaves us as he began: with no words, and with a simple, lingering image, wrapping up a tight, yet spellbinding 17 minutes.

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