Yes Man

Yes ManSynopsis: Carl Allen has stumbled across a way to shake free of post-divorce blues and a dead-end job: embrace life and say yes to everything. Take a bungee plunge? Yes. Accept call-now TV offers? Yes. Learn Korean? Yes. Grab the first flight to anywhere? Yes. Win your dream girl? Yes. Crack up fans with a feel-good, laugh-loaded romp? Yes! Working every funny bone in his nimble body and every muscle in his hilariously mobile face, Jim Carrey plays Carl in a YEScapade about opening up to lifes possibilities especially when those possibilities include romance with an intriguing, free-spirited musician (Zooey Deschanel). From the director of The Break-Up comes an invitation to discover the comedy power of yes.

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Yes Man 7.0

eyelights: Jim Carrey. the curious premise.
eyesores: the conventionality of the picture.

“Hey, Carl… you wanna give your money away to some homeless guy? Yes, yes I do. How ’bout letting him use up the phone battery so that you can’t get help when your car runs out of gas? You know what? That sounds like a fuckin’ great idea! Why don’t you take a late night stroll through the hills and get killed by the Manson family? Don’t mind if I do!”

‘Yes Man’ is a 2008 motion picture starring Jim Carrey. Loosely based on the memoir by British comedian Danny Wallace, it tells the story of a man with commitment issues who one day decides to change his life by always agreeing to whatever is proposed to him. Inevitably, this has massive repercussions on his life, both personally and professionally.

Within no time flat, Carl is off on all sorts of adventures (and misadventures), opening wider his horizons: his career flourishes, his friendships strengthen and he even begins a rich new relationship with an unconventional young woman, played by Zooey Deschanel. The picture was a wild success, raking in over 200 million dollars at the global box office.

Personally, when I heard of it, I had no interest in seeing it whatsoever. Frankly, the basic premise reminded me somewhat of ‘Liar Liar‘ – which was good, but not great. And I really didn’t feel pulled to another side of the same coin. The moment that Carrey gave us ‘The Truman Show‘, ‘Man on the Moon‘ and ‘Eternal Sunshine‘ the bar had been raised higher.

Much higher.

And, frankly, his most recent mass market output (‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’, ‘Bruce Almighty‘, ‘Fun with Dick and Jane‘) had been okay, but nothing spectacular. So I wasn’t especially motivated to see ‘Yes Man’. Eventually, though, I half-heartedly picked it up for a 1$ when a local second hand shop closed it doors a year or two ago. I figured, why the heck not?

And that’s the general sense of indifference that I feel after watching ‘Yes Man’, a so-called feel-good comedy that leaves few traces of anything of any value, kind of like junk food for the brain. It’s intended to be inspirational, but the implausibility of many of its individual bits -as well as the whole- makes it impossible for a discerning audience to drink the Kool-Aid.

The first faux pas of the picture is when Carl goes to a ‘Yes!’ seminar at the urging of a friend who feels he has turned his life around because of it. The problem is that Carl is forced into a humiliating position by the ‘Yes!’ guru (played to perfection by Terence Stamp) and pretty much gives into pressure to join the club. It was far too facile a transformation for me.

You see, I myself am very much a ‘No!’ person. Not nearly as much as Carl, but it’s certainly ingrained; there are just things I’m not interested in and/or can’t be bothered with. Timidity also plays a part in it at times. So the idea that someone could just change overnight, faced with such weak arguments, is absolutely beyond me; it would take even me more than that.

Then there’s the so-called positive reinforcement, which I find utterly unconvincing. To me, there’s very little that overcompensates for most of what happens to Carl (being taken advantage of by a homeless person, working on the weekend, getting into a drunken fistfight, …etc.). Even closer ties to his best friends seems unpalatable given how shallow they are.

(Seriously, ultimately they prefer him as a drinking buddy; that’s the summum of their connection in ‘Yes Man’. Ouch.)

Yes, it does lead to some funny situations, such as the encounter with his neighbour (which, sadly, initially depends on a few ageist jokes), but you can’t help but wonder if he could afford to give money,  pay for everything, buy new stuff, take classes, …etc., just because he says yes to it all. And there’s only so much time in a day – when exactly does he fit work into it?

I also wondered about the lack of chaos around them, given that hundreds of ‘Yes!’ people are converting to the movement, becoming more spontaneous and, thus, random. I mean, the friend who introduces him to the concept provided us with an example of how crazy that could get, willfully stoning a bank window and going off on a chase with two security guards.

But there’s no sign of this type of behaviour anywhere else. Aren’t all these people saying “yes” to impulse, to anything life throws at them? If so, shouldn’t we see evidence of this? One person can create havoc, so imagine hundreds of them at once? Strangely enough, these people only seem to exist at the seminar, shouting “YES!” in unison to intimidate Carl.

Carrey brings as much to the part as is demanded of him. He has learned over time when to hold back and is no longer a caricature unless absolutely needed. But he also retains his comic timing, which is absolutely superb. What I found interesting was that he seemed to exude a sort of John Ritter-like everyman quality this time, as opposed to a James Stewart one.

The rest of the cast is all decent but, if not for Carrey, ‘Yes Man’ would be rather dull. Deschanel is interesting only because she makes offbeat characters credible, but she isn’t especially magnetic. And don’t get me started on Bradley Cooper, whose goofy grin and crystal clear eyes erases any sign of intelligence his character might have. I could easily do without him.

And I could easily do without ‘Yes Man’, a middle-of-the-road pleaser that offers very little substance – only the appearance of it. And since the overarching theme is all too familiar to fans of Carrey’s oeuvre, it really just feels like a commercial retread. I love the idea, but it really hasn’t been mined to its full potential. And it’s completely beneath Carrey at this point.

He needs to say yes to better fare. As is, he’s not living up to his full potential.

Date of Viewing: July 11, 2015

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