A film review by Craig J. Koban

YES MAN jjj

2008, PG-13, 100 mins.

Carl Allen: Jim Carrey / Allison: Zooey Deschanel / Peter: Bradley Cooper / Nick: John Michael Higgins / Terrence: Terence Stamp / Rooney: Danny Masterson / Tillie: Fionnula Flanagan

Directed by Peyton Reed / Written by Nicholas Stoller and Jarrad Paul

Yes, the very first word uttered by the main character at the beginning of the new comedy YES MAN is, oddly enough, “No!”  This is highly ironic, especially considering the overall hook of the film is that of a man that accepts a self-imposed oath to say “yes” to every request, question, scenario, etc..  And, yes, I do mean anything. 

Yes, this marks a fairly fine return to comedic form for star Jim Carrey, who previously allowed all of his considerable talent (both humorous and dramatic) to be utterly subverted in the reliably terrible 2007 psychological thriller, THE NUMBER 23.  Carrey did begin his film career with his trademark rubber faced, go for broke, zany physical comedic roles in films as far ranging as ACE VENTURA, DUMB AND DUMBER, THE MASK, and LIAR, LIAR, the latter which did a virtuoso job of showing just of histrionically hilarious he could be when allowed to fully let loose in a performance of reckless abandon.  He followed suit with more sullen and serious fare like THE TRUMAN SHOW, THE MAJESTIC, and MAN ON THE MOON, which won raves from the critical world (myself included), but not from audiences.  So, yes, Carrey does go back to the creative well here, but since he is able to harness his weird and offbeat whimsical energy with a such a free-wheeling spirit and raw determination (he'll do anything for a laugh), I am a bit more willing to forgive him here. 

Yes, this new comedy does bare a striking resemblance to his last good comedy, LIAR, LIAR.  Feelings of déjà vu may be elicited from some filmgoers seeing YES MAN.  LIAR, LIAR also had a screwball performance by Carrey as a lawyer whom, after an impromptu birthday wish by his young son, discovered that – the horror! – he was incapable of telling a lie.  This, of course, proved insanely difficult considering his profession, which has become the but of umpteen million jokes about how untrustworthy people in the line of work are.  YES MAN feels like a bit of a retread, but the similarities are superficial.  Carrey plays a depressed and recently divorced loan officer named Carl Allen that has an extremely negative outlook on life to the point where he has alienated all social ties with lifelong friends.  He declines on just about any request or invite (“No means No” he deadpans to a caller at one point).  This all changes when he attends a self-help seminar called “The Power of Yes.” 

Yes, the seminar is overseen by the great Terrence Stamp, who plays, you guessed right, a guru named Terrence who preaches to his vast masses about the danger of negativity and the indestructible power of being affirmative with everything in life.  Terrence spots out Carl in the audience, and since he’s a newbie to the whole “yes” experience, he decides to personally mentor him there on the floor.  Crouching down beside him with the zeal of a radical televangelist, Terrence all but forces Carl to completely abandon saying "no" to everything.  In his mind, by bringing yes into every social equation, the end results will be much more appealing.  However, there is a downside: “When you break a promise to yourself," Terrence sternly warns the intimidated Carl, “then things get…dicey.”  Carl, emotionally taken in by all of Terrence’s ominous words and warnings, decides to take the Covenant of Yes and say “yes” to everything. 

Yes, this does create some unexpected problems for Carl up front.  For example, what if a dirty, stinky bum asked you for a ride into a dark and secluded park area?  Well, since Carl must say “yes” to everything, he forces himself to drive the transient.  It snowballs more from there, especially when the bum asks Carl for his cell phone and talks so long on it that he drains the battery during their trip.  Even worse, the smelly chap asks Carl for some money.  When Carl gives him a few dollars out of his pocket, the bum replies, “How about all of it?”  Carl grimaces, but a Covenant of Yes can’t be broken, so he reluctantly gives the bum all of his money.  Unfortunately for him, he runs out of gas while driving back to the city. 

Yes, things do get worse for Carl when he realizes that he can’t refuse anything, especially when it comes in the form of latent sexual advances from his elderly neighbour.  One day she politely asks him if he can put some shelves up for her, which he gladly agrees to.  However, when she tells him that she has no money to pay, she asks if she can repay him by…er…performing an act on him that no person would want performed by an old woman approaching death.  Carl quickly recoils and says the…N-word.  Within minutes he sees that saying “no” has immediate repercussions, so he…um…goes back to see the old lady, lays on the bed, and the lady takes out her dentures and…. 

...yes, this is a needlessly disgusting scene in a film that stretches the mindset of the MPAA.  Eroticized oral sex would guarantee an R-rating, but oral sex done for the sake of a gross out gag does not.  Noticing that there were little children in the theatre beside me watching this moment, I did indeed squirm considerably in my seat. Thankfully, the sequence is short.

Yes, things do get more rosy for Carl and his new pact, especially when he has the inevitable meet cute with the adorable Allison (played by the deliciously adorable and fetching Zooey Deschanel, whose piercingly beautiful blue eyes light the screen up).   She is everything that Carl is not: a bohemian singer-artist-photographer that, by night, has a band affectionately called Munchausen By Proxy and, by day, teaches a class in “jogging photography” where she and her classmates, yes, jog and take photos.  Slowly, but surely, a relationship between the two begins to simmer and, because of Carl’s Covenant, he simply can’t say no to any of her requests, which leads to many funny moments of improvisation on his part. 

Yes, I am officially in love with the infectiously cute Zooey Deschanel.  

Yes, she was the only gleam of positive energy in this summer’s deplorably dreadful THE HAPPENING, but she has a gifted knack for having good low-key comic timing and an innate ability to make you care for her character, even when her part in YES MAN follows many of the permutations of the Rom-Com Cliché Playbook.  The way that Deschanel harness her character’s free-spirited idiosyncrasies and lively spunk is kind of thankless, which allows her chemistry to Carrey’s Carl feel more tangible.  BTW, did I say that she’s as cute as proverbial button?  The screen just...I dunno...glows when she smiles. 

Yes, the best element of YES MAN is the easy-going chemistry between Deschanel and Carrey.  The actress does an admirable job of basically playing the straight man (or, woman) to Carrey’s outrageous comic tenacity, but the film thankfully does not get too bogged down in sight gags and pratfalls (aside from that unnecessary scene with the old woman, sheesh!) and really allows for some quieter, introspective moments between the two leads.  There is certainly an incredulous age gap between the two (Carrey is 46 and Deschanel is 28, which, as far as the numbers go, could easily make the elder Carrey her father), but this is never a glaring distraction in the film.  Carrey and Deschanel are so fluent and charming together that it supersedes most of the film’s more mind-numbingly predictable story elements.  Gee, I wonder whether or not Allison will discover – during the obligatory awkward moment – Carl’s “yes” secret, which will lead to a painfully routine break up and unavoidable reuniting before the final end credits.  Answer?  You already know it! 

Yes, this may just be the first Jim Carrey comedy that is based on literature.  No fooling.  YES MAN is based on the biographical book by Danny Wallace, who was a British producer, author, and journalist who spend half a year answering yes to anything, much like Carl does in the film.  Peyton Reed, who generated a serious amount of comedic mileage out of his main stars in the wonderful 2003 romantic comedy, DOWN WITH LOVE, achieves much of the same here.  Obviously, YES MAN does not maintain that film’s adherence to the tone and look of Doris Day/Rock Hudson sex comedies, but YES MAN is still as appealing. 

Yes, YES MAN is frequently funny, sometimes even uproarious, which, according to my tastes, is one of the most basic requirements of good comedies.   Unsurprisingly, the jokes come from Carl’s basic predicament and how he is unable to refuse anything, like briefly marrying an Iranian mail order bride through an online service, clicking “yes” to email spam that promises to enlarge one vital part of his lower anatomy, and passionately kissing an uber hot girl at a bar, which leads to one of the film’s more inspired comic scenes when Carl allows himself to be beaten up by the girl’s muscle bound, redneck boyfriend.  For a comedian creeping up on 50, Carrey may not be as physically explosive with his capricious energy, but he can still bring it.  Look at one funny moment where he plays a round of DANCE DANCE REVOLUTION like he was on speed, or a funny sequence where he exchanges an odd glance with his bank boss (played by FLIGHT OF THE CONCORD’S Rhys Darby, whose hapless nerd character here gets many laughs as well) where Carrey alters his physical appearance with the help of several feet of Scotch Tape.  There is also an inspired moment where Carl tests his new Tempurpedic memory foam mattress to see whether or not a glass filled with wine (placed on the bed) will stumble if he frenetically throws himself on the mattress beside it.  And, no other comedic actor can approximate Carrey’s maddeningly hilarious verbal and physical friskiness, as demonstrated in two scenes where he snorts hot sauce at a bar (he's like human TNT going off) and later when he crashes from an all-night Red Bull drinking bender.  Extreme hyperactivity has rarely been so humorous.

Yes, this film is funny.  Yes, this is Carrey's most satisfying comedy in years, which all but forgives him of his past indiscretions like the totally disagreeable THE NUMBER 23, the wrongheaded family film LEMONY SNICKET’S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS, and his last mediocre comedy, FUN WITH DICK AND JANE.  Yes, the film is routine and hits every preordained beat of the romantic comedy genre.  However, YES MAN is warm-hearted, cheerfully irreverent, gets decent laughs with minimal fuss, and, yes, has its heart and head in the right place by pairing up Carrey and Deschanel.  As a result, it’s sure hard not to say yes to YES MAN.   

Oh...and...yes...I think that I have set a record for the most usages of the word "yes" in any single film review ever.  I mean, the word is so dang empowering, isn't it?

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