Happy circumstances caused me to see this without my notebook, so please forgive me my failing memory. Despite my decade of Jim Carrey love, I had not run out to see Yes Man, fearing the film was going to be another Evan Almighty, a cheapening attempt at message with no funny slapped all over a beloved funny man. The previews did not look promising — but there I was, snug at the drive-in, and ready for anything. I was happily surprised by the result, and my companions guffawed nearly as loudly as I did. Sure, some jokes (as ruined by the preview) are a little predictable or depend on the concept that saying yes to some things can be reckless more than silly (think internet pop-up ads), but the overall flow is funny with a chance of redemption.
No doubt, it was a great help that Yes Man was directed by Peyton Reed (Bring It On, Down With Love, and The Break-Up) — Reed has a touch that can smooth over any hokeyness and bring the joy out of his actors. He sprinkles throwaway gags about to spice up the main course but never lets his story get off track. Harnessing Carrey is no small feat, but Jim also seems ready to be taken into a director’s vision more and more often lately. Reed’s signature directorial style appears to be shaping up as a sort of over-real realism — never passing the line of sheer ridiculousness, but always giving us that extra sparkle that the movies are so adept at providing. The benefits of grounding comedy in reality are never-ending, and Yes Man takes advantage of most of them. Looking also at Reed’s TV credits (Upright Citizens Brigade, Mr. Show, the Weird Al Show) I appreciate him more and more every movie.
The premise is simple — social recluse and excuse-making naysayer Carrey is dragged into a Say Yes To Everything program, and mayhem ensues. Maybe his unflinching, all-or-nothing embrace of the concept is exaggerated, but the movie is not just about being a more positive person. As a life-long cynic/pessimist (I prefer the label “realist”) I coveted Carrey’s character’s bravery, commitment and endless funding for his life experiment. Yes Man starts out looking like a movie advancing the Up With People agenda, but really the movie is condemning blind adherence to any extreme philosophy or lifestyle, and also decrying selfishness. Yes Man wants us to shout, as one, “Yes, we are all individuals!” as if Brian himself were leading us — but it wants us to follow up on the fun paths life can offer without getting bogged down in literalism. This comes off like a serious theme here, but it’s handled comedically. Chance acceptance of learning some new things pays off down the line in unexpected ways, plus comedy. We’re not seeing unplumbed depths of Carrey, but that is only due to his broad and deep bag of tricks being used to make so many different kinds of movies.
Yes Man’s supporting cast is sprinkled with faces you know and names you may not — but should. John Michael Higgins steals his scenes with feckless charm; Zooey Deschanel manages to help us remember her in Elf and forget her in The Happening. Rhys Darby (you might recognize him if you watch HBO’s Flight of the Conchords) is a big bowl of ice cream of a treat as Carrey’s simpleton, big-hearted geek boss. There is no reason for that character to be as well-developed as he is except for the sheer pleasure of letting Darby run with it. Cowriter Nicholas Stoller (director of Forgetting Sarah Marshall) groks the value of a rich side character, and Reed knows very well how to use them. Enjoy.
MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 12/19/08
Time in minutes 104
Director Peyton Reed
Studio Warner Brothers