Sunday, October 2, 2011

Not As Bad As I Anticipated, Yes Man Is Good For A Laugh Or Two.

The Good: Decent soundtrack, One or two laughs
The Bad: Predictable plot, Chameleonic acting, Light on character
The Basics: Jim Carrey's latest one-line concept film is not as bad as I thought it would be, but still clearly appeals mostly to a young, less mature crowd's sense of humor.

I have been fired from an inordinate number of jobs, largely for not fitting in. Yes, despite my likable personality and quick wit, it seems often enough keeping steadily employed is more often about playing by the rules and swimming in the same direction as the other fish in the river than doing your own thing remarkably well in your own fashion. I sometimes consider future ways I might be fired and one of my more popular fantasies in this regard is becoming successful enough as a writer that I someday end up in one of the rooms where decisions about the creation of movies are made. I can easily foresee myself being in such a time and place when someone pitches an idea like, "I have an idea for a Jim Carrey vehicle where he plays a pessimistic character who suddenly has to embrace everything that is offered to him" and I'd be the one voice in the room saying, "That's a terrible idea." On my most diplomatic days, I fantasize me saying something like "It's a fine enough one-line idea, but do you actually think you can make it into a ninety minute feature that anyone in their right mind is going to want to pay money to see and then shell out for a DVD of?" Either way, I always get fired in the fantasy.

I mention this at the outset of my review for Yes Man, because clearly at Heydey Films there was no one like me to pipe up with something like that when the idea for this movie was pitched. On its surface, Yes Man is remarkably similar to the concept for Liar Liar, but this film doesn't have the charm or presence of Jennifer Tilly. The result is a comedy that is astonishing only in that the writers, Nicholas Stoller, Jarrad Paul, and Andrew Mogel along with director Peyton Reed managed to flesh the one line concept out to a 104 minute adaptation of Danny Wallace's biography.

Carl is a man who has not been in a romantic relationship since his ex-wife, Stephanie left him. He mopes around, slouching through his days working at a bank, avoiding his best friend Pete at night in favor of watching movies alone. Peter and his other friend Rooney get tired of Carl, especially in light of Peter getting engaged. But soon after, on his lunch break, Carl is accosted by an old associate named Nick, who has declared himself a Yes Man and insists Carl join him at a seminar. The seminar - more like a cult - is organized around opening up to new experiences simply by saying yes to every new experience offered to one.

Picked out at the seminar and given a quick, but surprisingly accurate psychoanalysis by the group's leader, Terrence, Carl adopts the "yes" philosophy. Soon, he is driving around homeless people, approving everyone's loan application and learning all sorts of new skills. He also meets Allison, an artist and singer in an eclectic band and they have a pretty instant chemistry. Soon, Carl's friendships are getting better, his romantic life is working out and he is being promoted at work, all because he says "yes" to everything.

Of course, there has to be an obstacle and it takes the form of Allison learning that Carl has said yes to everything just because he's involved in this cult-like philosophy, so, naturally, she storms off. Yes Man is not terribly high on unpredictable and new character elements. No, this is pretty formulaic, exactly as one might expect because it is that type of movie. Apparently, what Heydey Films does have is a great marketing department; this is the production company that made the Harry Potter films and they appear in Yes Man conspicuously, so it's hard not to give them points for creative advertising.

That said, Yes Man is not completely devoid of laughs. I laughed three or four times. The thirteen to sixteen year-olds in the screening I was at were laughing a lot more and applauding. A lot. I suppose that speaks to the target audience. The thing is, Yes Man is almost entirely lacking in genuine humor. It's one joke. It's one joke repeated a lot and one of the things I noticed was as the movie went on, the audience was laughing in anticipation of the joke more than at the jokes themselves. Throughout Yes Man, there are the obvious setups of a question and Jim Carrey as Carl getting around to answering the question with a "yes." It's not hard to tell when the jokes are coming.

The fundamental problem, then, with Yes Man as far as concept is that humor is based largely upon surprise and while milking this one joke to death, there are almost no other jokes in the movie. In fact, the only thing I thought was funny after the first fifteen minutes was that the name of Allison's band was Munchausen By Proxy (ahh, some highbrow humor!). I suppose it is worth noting that the music in Yes Man, largely by the Eels or Jim Carrey and Zooey Deschanel is pretty decent. I suspect the soundtrack to this has more enduring quality than the movie itself.

That said, the rest of Yes Man is largely drivel. The plot is utterly predictable. Carl continues on his witless quest until he learns a Very Important Lesson and the romantic comedy aspect is entirely blase and obvious. To be fair, Carrey and Deschanel actually have some decent on-screen chemistry.

But for me, what nailed the final nails into this comedic coffin was the acting. Terence Stamp appears as Terrence and he is adequate, playing the comedic role with a deadpan quality one might expect of an actor of his caliber. Similarly, I've not seen Zooey Deschanel in enough works to critique whether or not her acting was good or not. She plays a quirky, free-spirited part in the role of Allison and that was pretty much exactly how she played her character in season two of Weeds (reviewed here!).

The thing is, all of the other main actors in Yes Man are performing either in ways that are completely familiar or as if they were mimicking the performances of other actors. So, for example, Danny Masterson plays Rooney. Masterson is perhaps best known for his role of Hyde on That 70's Show. He might not look the same in this movie, but he plays the role in almost the exact same way; understated and deeply sarcastic. On the flip side, I do not recall having ever seen Rhys Darby in anything before, but in Yes Man, he plays Norman as Mike Meyers. Seriously, anyone who subjects themselves to Yes Man and watches Norman will wonder why they didn't just get Mike Meyers to play the role. I suppose he no longer does supporting roles.

For me the greatest disappointment on the supporting front comes from Bradley Cooper. Cooper plays Peter and I have been a fan of Bradley Cooper's since the moment he appeared on Alias. On Alias, he played a nice guy and the big acting challenge one would need from Cooper following that would be for him to convincingly play a more slimy, manipulative, mean character. In Yes Man, he plays exactly that type of character, for as soon as Peter realizes that he can get anything he wants out of Carl, he begins using that whenever he wants free drinks, someone to arrange a bridal shower, etc. The problem here is, he's already done that. Right after Alias, Cooper starred in a show called Kitchen Confidential and he performed the exact acting make-over needed to assure us fans that he actually was a gifted actor. Cooper plays Peter exactly as he played the lead in Kitchen Confidential and, frankly, I wanted more from him.

Of course, Yes Man is a Jim Carrey vehicle. While watching much of the film, all I could think of was the episode of The Simpsons where Lisa sees the future and she and the man she is interested in at the time go to a Jim Carrey film festival and her observation is something to the effect of "all he had to do was flail about to get us to laugh." Through most of the film, Carrey is performing his absurd physical comedy which made him famous. Those who like that will enjoy Yes Man. The problem comes near the very end of the movie when Carrey has to play Carl in an earnest and adult way. In that scene, I kid not, Carrey does a spot-on impersonation of Billy Campbell's performances from Once And Again. It is uncanny. Carrey tends to either perform as Jim Carrey Schtick or he is a chameleon. Yes Man has both aspects.

Yes Man is predictable, largely obvious and not the best showcase for any of the performers in it. But, it is not devoid of all humor and after seeing it, there's no reason for me to update my list of "Worst Movies Of 2008." This is not one of them.

For other works works with Jim Carrey, please check out my reviews of:
A Christmas Carol
How The Grinch Stole Christmas
The Truman Show
Batman Forever


For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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