A film review by Craig J. Koban March 23, 2021


2020, PG, 86 mins.

Jennifer Garner as Allison Torres  /  Edgar Ramírez as Carlos Torres  /  Jenna Ortega as Katie Torres  /  Everly Carganilla as Nia Torres  /  Julian Lerner as Evan Torres

Directed by Miguel Arteta  /  Written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Tom Lichtenheld, and Justin Malen


Question to all parents out there: 

How many times do you say "no" to your children on a daily basis?  

My prediction would be a lot.  

The new Netflix comedy YES DAY feels like the love child of the similarly premised YES MAN and HALL PASS, albeit engineered for a family friendly audience.  This Miguel Arteta effort hinges itself on a fairly intriguing premise: Two parents allow their kids to have a fantasy day that allows for them to do anything they want (within safe reason, of course) that they ask for...and the parents can't decline them.  Obviously, a relative whirlwind of possibilities exists for a story that involves a mother and father saying yes to whatever their children desire, and YES DAY certainly has its fair share of clever and mischievous moments of spontaneous frivolity throughout.  Unfortunately, Arteta peppers his comedy with more manic energy than genuine heartfelt laughs, and it becomes clear very early on that he's having difficulty spreading out the source material (the short children's book penned by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld) to feature film length.  I mean, YES DAY is barely able to cross over its already short 79 minute running time (minus credits) without running out of gas.

We're very quickly introduced to one of the parents in question in Allison (the always appealing Jennifer Garner), who was a free wheeling, throw caution to the wind adventurer equal to just about any challenge presented to her before she met and married the love of her life in Carlos (Edgar Ramirez).  This continued during the early stages of her relationship with him, and the pair essentially said, well, yes to just about everything, but as is the case with most couples, having kids changed all of that.  As Allison's voiceover monologue explains, when she once was a passionate yes person she now has become a staunch no parent, spending most of her days abruptly canceling any forbidden or perceived unsafe activity that her children try to partake in.  Gone are the days when her and Carlos went sky diving and rock climbing.  As their babies moved on to childhood and adolescence the pair have fully embraced no ("No became the new yes," she explains at one point, "No is the light...no is the answer").



Now going on ten-plus years as a helicopter mom, Allison is starting to see how hovering over her children and micro-managing every facet of their lives is starting to show its negative side effects.  Her 14-year-old daughter in Katie (Jenna Ortega) has had just about enough of her control freak mom and expresses a potential to revolt on rebellious streak if she's not allowed to attend a rock concert alone with her BFFs.  This is driven very close to home when one of their kid's teachers calls Allison out for aggressively smothering her offspring.  All of this is not assisted when her son Nando (Julian Lerner) makes a video project for school that hyperbolically compares her to Hitler.  At their disappointed emotional wits end, Allison and Carlos decide to do the unthinkable:  At the advice of the school counselor (a hilarious Nat Faxon), the couple decides to have a one day period where they allow their kids to do anything.  In short, Allison and Carlos are unable to so no to any request. 

Let the yes games begin.

YES DAY is at its modestly entertaining best when we get to the nuts and bolts of its core premise that showcases the kids unleashing a laundry list of "big ask" tasks that they know their mom and dad can't refuse.  Obviously, ground rules are established from the get-go (so, for example, nothing dangerous or nothing criminal).  One inspired moment has the family journey out to a local ice cream parlor to attempt to consume their most gargantuan product (it's the size of a table) without...let's just say...bringing up the product (the dessert in question is amusingly called the "gut buster").  They then proceed to a car wash, but must go through with all of the windows down (not sure how damaging the interior of the family car would not warrant an exclusion, but never mind).  From there, this can't-say-no clan participates in a local match of "Kablowey," which is a capture the flag type of contest that involves water balloons filled with Kool-Aid.  It's a very take-no-prisoner kind of sport, but Allison and Carlos realize that - in the spirit of the day and rules - they can't say no.  Again, as a madcap wish fulfilment fantasy targeted at young viewers, YES DAY will be kind of infectiously enjoyable for this demographic.  What child doesn't want their mother/father to stop saying no to them?

Garner and Ramirez are, I guess, the adult viewer conduit into this wacky film, and both stars are endlessly likeable and sport decent chemistry on screen (you believe they're a couple with history in the film).  Unfortunately and for as solid as they are as actors, Garner and Ramirez simply aren't funny in the film together and seem to struggle with finding a consistent tonal note to harness throughout.  The Golden Globe winner actress in Garner in particular (so superb when given the right material and characters, and one of the few that can navigate through multiple genres like action, drama, super hero, and comedy with relative ease in the past) is simply too histrionic here.  More often than not, she embraces the capricious vibe of the piece with an all-over-the-map and frenzied performance that's a bit too cartoonish for my tastes.  Her partner in Ramirez, contrastingly enough, seems almost comatose here and struggles to find ways to make the material work.  I kept imagining how well, say, Nat Faxon would have been as the dad instead.  Ramirez has definitely been good in films before, but is a bit out of his element here.

Plus, Arteta doesn't give much edge to this picture either.  Clearly, this is family friendly fare, but there are very little attempts made to give the story or characters much in the way of dramatic depth.  Too much of YES DAY seems hyper caffeinated and looking to deliver outlandish set pieces than it does dig deeper into this troubled family unit in any meaningful way.  The parents and children essentially become props served up for all of the zany hijinks that the day presents them, and not much else.  That's too bad, because Areta has a good visual flair as a filmmaker and makes the proceedings here come off as more stylistically distinctive than most other generic and flat footed family films.  Plus, he's a diverse talent that can make solid R-rated comedies (the terribly underrated CEDAR RAPIDS) and PG-centric family fare (he previously worked on the much better ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD VERY BAD DAY with Garner).  In YES DAY, though, Arteta seems to be spinning his directorial wheels too much; far too much of the film is broad and farcical when it could have been injected with some much needed warmth and emotionally grounded sentiment. 

Also, it's pretty hard to embellish a 32 page children's book to something approximating something feature film length.  When everything is said and done, there's not a lot of meaningful meat on the bones of YES DAY.  I think as a diversion piece of easily digestible, but disposable family cinema, this is inoffensively fine as a time waster, but I simply can't wholeheartedly recommend it as required viewing, even via streaming right now during our current pandemic.  I can easily see how both kids and parents can relate to both sides of the equation in terms of this film's core ideas and messages, but there's not much more relatable material to be had here.  Watching YES DAY is like experiencing a ridiculous game show made up of various bizarre vignettes featuring all out mayhem, but it all seems lacking in a tangible emotional core.  And considering the litany of other far better family film offerings out there to consume, it's very easy to say no to YES DAY. 

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