The last time Jim Carrey was seen on the big screen it was early 2007 in Joel Schumacher’s The Number 23. That film featured Carrey stepping away from his bread and butter comedy and into a role that threatened to stretch his range. Unfortunately, that experience went from hopeful thrills going in (considering the number’s relationship to me) to dour disappointment.
In the near two years in between, Carrey’s lone credit is as the voice of Horton in Horton Hears a Who!, a role that helped reintroduce him to the masses and prove his comedic cred (not that he had really lost it). Unfortunately (yes, again), Yes Man plays it a bit broad and never allows Carrey the room to truly cut loose and show off his talents, not to mention treading ground similar to Carrey’s own Liar, Liar from 1997, which coincidentally came after Carrey’s first box office flop, Cable Guy.
Meet Carl (Carrey). He lives his life through a mantra of “no.” Whatever anyone asks of him, his answer is no. He takes it so far as not answering his phone and not returning messages. His friends have to literally drag him from his apartment to get him to do anything. It seems a large part of his problems stem from the love of his life walking out on him a few years prior. Now he says no to everything, which works well in his job as a loan officer at a local bank branch.
A chance meeting with an old acquaintance leads Carl, kicking and screaming, to a meeting of Say Yes! It is one of those organizations that gets people to spend money to gather in a hotel convention hall to witness a motivational speaker who has the essence of life boiled down to a few bullet points in a PowerPoint presentation. The man behind the philosophy is Terrence Bundley (Terence Stamp) and he confronts Carl, converting him to a new outlook on life. From now on he must say “yes” to anything. This is where the “fun” begins.
The plot follows a logical progression that is easy to see coming. It starts with the testing of the system, demonstrated by being asked by a homeless guy for a ride to a wildlife preserve, followed by a request for money. This is followed by a creepy turn with the elderly, sex-crazed neighbor in a scene that reminded me of something I saw in Soul Men not long ago. From there we move on to the tests of the friends. Through this there is the chance meeting with a lovely young woman named Allison (Zooey Deschanel) who rides a scooter, sings in an avant garde band, and lives an uninhibited life.
Any guess where this practice of saying “yes” leads? I am not going to tell you, but I am sure you have a pretty good idea. This is also where Liar, Liar proves to be the better movie. In the older movie Carrey is someone forced to tell the truth despite not wanting to, leading to Carrey being able to cut loose on himself. This time you have Carrey doing something that he wants to do, thus negating any genuine conflict. That is until his new habit could interfere with the very real developing relationship with Allison.
This is not to say the movie is not enjoyable; it is. It is just that it is not nearly a great or even terribly good movie. Yes Man is fitfully funny, moderately touching, and ultimately forgettable.
The concept is an odd one. Sure it offers up plenty of opportunities for comedy, but it is also one that could lead you into a corner; it is a rather hard and fast rule to play by (forcing your lead to say yes to every offer). The fact that he throws himself headlong into this “contract with yourself” displays not only someone struggling with depression, but someone who is struggling with serious self-esteem issues. It also opens up the door for potentially dangerous situations since he does not display any ability to truly think for himself – until the plot requires it anyway. I cannot help but think of what this could have been like if they decided to go an edgier route, rather than the broad one.
Something else that amused me while watching Yes Man was how the movie kept telling us to get out and live our lives, experience new things, and not be afraid of what the world has to offer, while entertaining an audience that is sitting in the dark in a movie theater. Sure, it could be recommending we do something after the movie, but I was still amused.
The performances were suitable. Jim Carrey does the best he can to carry the movie on his back as he throws himself into the slightly underwritten character. Zooey Deschanel always provides an intriguing screen presence with her captivating looks and unique voice, not to mention her character’s photography/running club. The supporting cast, including Bradley Cooper, Danny Masterson, and Rhys Darby, does not have a lot to do, but they fill their needed roles.
Bottomline. Not one of Carrey’s best, but it does provide a bit of fun, provided you just go along with it. Some movies warrant, demand, or deserve personal involvement, but this is not one of them. It has its place and I enjoyed most of it, but it will not really entice you to think too hard. My biggest thought was when the shoe would drop and the “say yes” experiment would crumble like a house of cards.