Yes Man

It’s been quite an interesting ride for Jim Carrey.  The man who started his career with goofy personas and characters all built on his near-inhuman physical elasticity and penchant for over-the-top humor found great fame and fortune with such endearing characters as Rubberface, Ace Ventura, Lloyd Christmas, and even The Riddler (yes, Batman Forever stunk, but Carrey played his character to the hilt.  I blame the film’s faults solely on Joel Schumacher, one of the worst directors this side of Uwe Boll) also tried his hand at serious films such as Man on the Moon and The Truman Show.  And for the most part, he did well, and Truman remains one of the more touching and poignant films of his long and staid career.  After flirting with drama, another stint with the Farrely brothers, a turn as The Grinch, and one of the most challenging roles any actor could ask for–that of Joel Barish in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind–Carrey has spent the past few years returning to his proverbial roots in outlandish physical comedy.  His recent roles have been much more along the lines of those that originally made him a household name, and to some extent he has to be trying to prove to the world that he still has it.

But does he?

Enter Yes Man, the film from directory Peyton Reed, about a man named Carl Allen who is so down on himself and life in general that he turns down every chance for surprise, fun, or even enjoyment.  But soon Carl, played by Jim Carrey, decided to say “yes” instead of “no” to virtually any opportunity that comes his way.  Whether it’s a homeless man asking for money, a friend asking him to foot the bill for the bar tab, a stranger asking if he wants a ride on her motorbike, or the chance to take a spontaneous trip to exotic Lincoln, Nebraska, Carl soon realizes that saying “yes” often leads to more excitement and, ultimately, a life well lived.

And that’s about it.  Sure there’s a few conflicts with friends, an oddball coworker, a love interest, and a lesson about moderation, but really this film isn’t much more than a story about a guy who learns to have fun by saying yes (though, ultimately, in moderation).  The movie’s true raison d’etre is simply to provide a vehicle for Jim Carrey to be Jim Carrey.  That means plenty of physical gags, odd voices and accents, sexual jokes, and more than a few PG-13 rated squirm-worthy moments that felt like they should have belonged back in the Farrely trash bin where they belong.  While the overall concept seems nifty enough, it’s almost as if the filmmakers, in adapting Danny Wallace’s original book, were searching for nothing more than a way to get Jim Carrey back into an outrageous funny role.  And then crafted a screenplay around it.

The trouble with this kind of filmmaking shows up most notably when the movie collapses under the weight of its own plot devices.  We see Carl at his desk answering “yes” to spam email and internet solicitations–one of them from a site called persianwifefinder.com.  See, Carl says “yes” to a persian wife!  Har de har!  Oh, my side.  But Carl already has a love interest, and this one-off joke becomes a burden that the film must carry, and ultimately starts a shallow subplot that is entirely abandoned altogether.  Carl also says “yes” when a rather rough character asks if he wants to fight.  As soon as the initial joke wears off the rest of the scene plays out slowly and uncomfortably, as if the director himself wasn’t sure what he wanted to accomplish.

All is not sour, though, and Yes Man does have plenty of honestly funny and even hilarious situations as Jim Carrey says yes instead of no to various things presented to him.  Carl’s socially clueless boss invites him to a Harry Potter party, and he agrees, which leads to one of the film’s most endearingly funny sequences.  The trip to Lincoln and subsequent visit to a telephone museum was original and enjoyable.  And Carrey’s traditional array of voices and quirky mannerisms, though at times strangely placed, were funny nonetheless.

Despite some problems with the execution of the premise, I can get behind the central message of Yes Man, which is that life is best when truly lived.  Taking risks, living outside of our comfort zones, and leaping before looking might lead to some unexpected (and painful) consequences, but it’s worth it in the end.  Is this a great movie to explore that premise?  No, not really.  But it is a fairly lighthearted tale about living instead of simply existing–a message that will hopefully strike a chord with some of the couch potatoes who end up watching it.

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