Many of you may not really be aware of my hobbies and interests outside of film and television, though I have spoken about them to friends and mentioned them at various points on social media; but I have been a active participant in micronationalism since I was 14 years old. Micronationalism is, in its simplest form, a form of political organization where individuals declare their own sovereignty without legal recognition. It can be seen as a form of political LARPing but with a far more serious tone and intention.
I was drawn into the hobby after researching and uncovering several interesting micronational projects, including Molossia in Nevada, Sealand in the English Channel, and the Kingdom of Lovely, a humorous joke nation founded by comedian Danny Wallace for his BBC comedy show How to Start Your Own Country.
I felt the need to mention this because it was through How to Start Your Own Country that I was introduced to Wallace's other work like his 2005 book Yes Man, which eventually loosely inspired the 2008 Jim Carrey comedy of the same name.
It is this film that will be the subject of today's article. Apologies for the long description but I felt the need to mention it not only because I love my hobbies and relish the chance to explain them to outsiders, but also because this film's inclusion in my review schedule is so out of left field for my usual fare that I felt the need to explore why I wanted to talk about it.
So let's get right into it shall we?
- Directed by Peyton Reed
- Produced by Heyday Films
- MPAA Rating: PG-13
- Running Time: 104 Minutes
Jim Carrey plays Carl, a withdrawn and cynical banker who has developed an incredibly negative outlook on life, much to the frustration of his friends. When an old colleague of Carl's comes back into his life and invites him to attend a motivational seminar called "Yes!", Carl begrudgingly agrees to go.
At the seminar, Carl is introduced to the guru Terrence who convinces Carl to take a pact to say yes to everything around him. At first unconvinced, Carl's life soon turns around as his new "Yes" mentality helps him learn a myriad of skills and introduces him to a bohemian and quirky woman named Allison.
But when Carl's new mentality begins to fall in on itself and turn against him, he will have to learn the real point of balancing restraint with a well-lived life.
As stated earlier, I was really only drawn to this film because of its association with Danny Wallace, who was a comedian that I was quite familiar with when I was younger. Having watched it however, I have come to the conclusion that, much like many comedy films, your overall enjoyment of the film is going to be heavily dependent upon whether or not you like Jim Carrey's style of comedy.
Speaking of that style, I find that Carrey tends to come in two general flavors: wacky and ridiculous idiot with high manic energy with little to no serious elements given to the rest of the film like Ace Ventura or The Mask, and straight man placed in weird situation where his charm and energy develops slowly to coincide with an emotional payoff, like in Bruce Almighty.
Of these films, Yes Man is almost scarily similar to Bruce Almighty, right down to the hospital revelation of the true moral and a confrontation with the primary love interest of the film. And the correlations between this film and Liar Liar were commented on even when the film came out, with a man forced to tell the truth and a man who can only say yes arriving at similar levels of absurdity. That being said, this type of comedy is wholly dependent upon the strength of the actors performances and in this regard, Carrey and crew are remarkable.
I'm not really crazy about Jim Carrey but if I had a preference for his performance style, it would be the straight man in absurd situation like he is here. Carl is a generally likeable man and his efforts to better himself are actually quite charming, especially when paired with the great chemistry that he has with Zooey Deschanel, who plays his primary love interest Allison. The film would absolutely fail if it couldn't get their relationship right and it manages to characterize Allison as such a genuinely quirky eccentric that Carl would only meet her with his new covenant.
Speaking of the covenant, Terence Stamp's role as the "Yes guru" Terrence is utterly spectacular. While his role is comparatively nominal compared to the other characters, like Carl's awkward boss Norman, or his best friend Peter (played by Bradley Cooper), he manages to thread the needle and play what could either be a scummy or manipulative character as someone whose ideas are well-intentioned but easily misinterpreted. It all works to create a crew of people that are all working towards an absurd comedy of errors without relying on outright villainy or the other tropes of romantic comedies (which this film arguably is). Though I do have to say that Norman was almost painful to watch at points, especially with his Harry Potter costume party. That scene was filled with so much damn cringe, I actually had to leave for a little bit (much to my girlfriend's chagrin).
Actually, my girlfriend didn't really care for the film all that much, though again that was largely due to her not caring for Carrey's brand and style of comedy. Which is a valid argumentation.
Narratively the film follows a fairly predictable routine. I wasn't really surprised at any point of the film and could generally tell precisely when each and every story beat was going to occur. I knew when Carl was going to gain his covenant, what would happen when he met Allison, when things would go right, when they'd go wrong, and how things would get resolved. It left me with little in the way of surprises.
But that is actually okay in my book. You all should know that a predictable film isn't inherently a bad film in my eyes if you've been following my articles for any length of time. What matters far more to me is whether the predictable plot points are well done and consistent with the overall tone and theme and in this regard Yes Man is actually better than you might expect. Much of that lies with the sheer charisma of the cast in making some scenes work, but its still noteworthy.
From narrative to music, Yes Man actually does have something to contribute to this in that the love interest Allison is a member of a band that plays a fairly important role in the narrative. As such the band's music, which was actually a collaborative effort between Zooey Deschanel (one-half of the song duo She & Him) and the band Von Iva to create the music for their scenes, even filming some music videos that were never released. I consider this incredibly impressive, though I will be completely upfront in saying that the music the band plays is absolutely not to my taste and as such, I cannot fairly critique its quality or its use in the film other than to note that it seems to match Allison's overall subversive and quirky characterization and contrast her nicely with Carl's straight-laced normality.
Credit to the filmmakers and the cast, Yes Man may be a very by the numbers Carrey emotional comedy project, right up there with Bruce Almighty and Liar Liar. But the cast and crew didn't phone any of it in and gave a wonderfully quirky, with somewhat painfully average comedy. The film manages to successfully gather the appropriate heart and actually has a fairly reasonable and sweet ending that manages to thread the needle of a normal real world conversation, which given the absurdity of the concept was refreshing to say the least.
The film never overstays its welcome and I feel like it was precisely as long as it needed to be before either the concept or Carrey had become too much. If I had to figure the best scenes in the film, it would easily have to be the Korean wedding shop and the bike ride with Allison, as both manage to either properly set up the or pay off on seemingly minor elements of the overall plot (Carl learning Korean). I also really appreciate that the film never uses the "Must say Yes" gimmick to do anything inherently illicit or uncomfortable, which logically could've easily happened (though the scene with Carl's elderly neighbor does thread the needle barely).
Ultimately, Yes Man is an inoffensive Jim Carrey comedy that works because of its strong cast and quirky, if largely unoriginal, premise. Your enjoyment of the film is going to lie entirely upon whether or not you enjoy Jim Carrey as an actor or comedian, as I know for a fact that his stylings are not for everyone. You'll either enjoy this film or despise, but I cannot honestly say that you will absolutely remember all of it without some serious prompting; as even I am only now remembering some scenes as writing this article jogs my memories.
Perhaps if this film manages to capture some form of cultural or internet zeitgeist or usage, it may one day be able to achieve a degree of notoriety equivalent to Bruce Almighty
or Liar Liar
. Until then, this passable above average comedy is relegated to the dustbin or blase comedy films. Deserved or not is ultimately in the eyes of the beholder.
FINAL SCORE - 7.25/10
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