Wednesday 17 June 2009

Yes Man (2008)

Wednesday 17 June 2009
How about "maybe"?

Based on a humourist memoir by Danny Wallace (who spent six months saying "yes" to everything in real life), that high-concept premise has been snaffled by Hollywood and transformed into a Jim Carrey vehicle; the kind of comedy that has a clear, predictable aim and accomplishes everything with the minimum of fuss to elicit a few smiles. It slips in through your eyes, avoids the brain, and slips out your ear, but the experience isn't a terrible one...

Carl Allen (Jim Carrey) is a bank employee whose divorce has resulted in him retreating to a loner's life of repetition, isolation and a strident non-committal that's beginning to frustrate his friends, particularly recently-engaged best buddy Peter (Bradley Cooper). A chance meeting with an old friend results in Carl being persuaded to exorcise his negative attitude by attending a "Yes!" self-improvement seminar, the brainchild of lifestyle guru Terrence Bundley (Terence Stamp), who targets Carl in the crowd and browbeats him into making a covenant with himself: say "yes" to every opportunity that life throws at you, or face the negative consequences.

So begins the inevitable proactive hijinks, with Carl's new attitude getting him into trouble and strife, but usually sweetening the deal with a positive after-affect. It's not long before he's giving the homeless lifts in his car, accepting the offer of a blowjob from an elderly neighbour, learning Korean, piloting aircraft, talking a suicidal man down from a window ledge, bungee jumping, etc. Most positively, he bumps into Allison (Zooey Deschanel), the lead singer of an eccentric punk band with a small but loyal following, who becomes the focus of his newfound lust for life.

It's all very obvious and innocuous, but buoyed by Carrey's committed performance and more chemistry with screen-girlfriend Deschanel than I was expecting. It's certainly true that, this being a Jim Carrey Film™, Carl has a tendency to act like a middle-aged Ace Ventura at times, which doesn't always fit the mood of the film, but that's to be expected with him. Yes Man is inoffensive, mild fun while it's unspooling, but ultimately just another lukewarm comedy stuck on rails. It rarely surprises and you can predict every development coming, particularly the final "message" about finding a balance in your life that utilizes common sense and judgement (as saying "yes" to everything brings its obvious problems...)

The most memorable moments are the scenes stolen by Rhys Darby (Flight Of The Conchords), a not-dissimilar Carrey-esque standup comedian who here gets to play an extrovert version of his band manager Murray from FoTC. His performance as bank manager Norman, whose idea of a hedonistic night is a Harry Potter costume party (how fortunate Potter's producer David Heyman was involved...) is a definite highlight. I guess part of that is because, as talented as he is, Carrey's routine always feels flaccid when it's shoehorned into a comedy that doesn't need the gurning and pratfalls. Carrey's now in his forties, so the outbursts of his patented, rubber-faced manchild behaviour is beginning to look a bit... unbecoming.

Still, Yes Man's hardly going to set the comedy world alight, but it's mildly funny in places, benefits from engaging Carrey/Deschanel chemistry, and is well-paced for the most part -- only slightly outstaying its welcome thanks to a protracted final act with Carl trying to break the "yes" superstiton that threatens to derail his new relationship.

Overall, Yes Man is an unremarkable comedy that coasts by pleasantly, but the fun-sounding premise isn't really that funny off the page. The plot is workmanlike and the only thing Carrey's stretches is his face again. It's fun to note the movie's accidental prescience in maing Carrey's character compelled to give everyone bank loans, given the credit-crunch that happened months after its release, but that's the only truly interesting thing about it. Still, Yes Man's box-office success will probably revive his career post-The Number 23, and hopefully he'll pick a project with a bit more imagination and scope to let loose whatever pentup ambitions or energy the funnyman still has to share.

directed by: Peyton Reed written by: Nicholas Stoller, Jarrad Paul & Andrew Mogel (based on the book by Danny Wallace) starring: Jim Carrey (Carl Allen), Zooey Deschanel (Allison), Bradley Cooper (Peter), John Michael Higgins (Peter), Rhys Darby (Norman), Danny Masterson (Rooney), Terrence Bundley (Terence Stamp), Sasha Alexander (Lucy Burns), Molly Simms (Stephanie), Fionnula Flanagan (Tillie), Maile Flanagan (Janet), Sean O'Bryan (Ted), John Cothran Jr. (Tweed) & Luis Guzman (Jumper) / Village Roadshow Pictures/The Zanuck Company/Heyday Films/Warner Bros. / 104 mins. / $70 million (budget) /