Jim Carrey’s latest high concept attempt to revive his recently stalled career is based on a non-fiction biography by writer/comedian Danny Wallace in which Wallace challenged himself to ‘say yes where once would have said no’ in order to make his life more positive and interesting. In this Hollywood adaptation , director Peyton Reed (Bring It On) and his screenwriting team tailor the basic premise of Wallace’s tome to suit Carrey’s manic , rubber faced persona hoping to strike box office gold in the process.
The Canadian funnyman plays a sad sack bank employee named Carl who’s life has been stuck in a rut since he broke with his girlfriend and now leads a lonely, pathetic existence in which he ignores all of his friends phone calls and uses every excuse in the book to avoid social interaction and get this, you really won’t guess this part he is extremely fond of the word ‘No’. You can see where this is going can’t you.
The plot mechanics then kick into gear when Christopher Guest regular John Michael Higgins turns up as an eccentric former workmate who drags Carl along to a self-help seminar presided by 60’s icon Terence Stamp who espouses his simplistic ‘Yes Man’ philosophy in which instead of saying no to life one should instead try saying ‘yes’ thus opening up a new world of possibilities.
Easily convinced, Carl is soon giving lifts to homeless men, giving out bank loans as if they were candy, having sex with his elderly neighbour, taking Korean lessons, learning the guitar, bungee jumping, convincing suicidal Latinos that life is worth living if you singalong to a generic pop rock song and along the way meets the quirky scooter riding, indie band front woman and amateur photographer played by the film world’s official Lady Quirk of Quirktown Zooey Deschanel whom he yes! yes! yes! falls in love with.
And so the character learns to truly live his life and becomes a happier, more fulfilled individual and hang on a second didn’t he impulsively agree to marry a Persian bride online and do you think that the bride will play some part in the plot later on as she really doesn’t serve any other purpose it seems other than as an insulting caricature and as cheap comedy relief. Well dear viewer I’ll leave this for you to figure out should you wish to do so.
Now, I admit that I am a fan of Carrey’s comedic and dramatic work for the most part but in Yes Man he finds himself in an unfortunate middle ground between his lower and higher register. At time his performance and the tone of the film , especially in the first 15 minutes is fairly low key and the premise is kind of believable and then at other moments Carrey is plastering his face with Scotch tape to contort his face or doing a ridiculous comedy drunk routine in a fight outside a bar. Its as if the Carrey is trying to meld the more dramatic elements of his subtle work in The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind with the more broad clowning of Liar Liar and Ace Ventura and it just seems off.
However there is solid chemistry between the leading man and leading lady Deschanel, though she really needs to broaden her range as this seems to be her umpteenth role playing a sarcastic,charming pixie girl type . It must be said that there are a few easy laughs to be had from the scenario ( the oral sex scene involving veteran Irish actress Fionnuala Flanagan had me laughing and I do feel guilty now I really do) but all in all the film is far too contrived with the film desperate to get everything wrapped up in a neat little bow, for it’s mawkish, eye rolling resolution which serves to put it’s star up on a saintly pedestal.
Another off putting aspect of the film was that Carrey, now 46 was clearly playing a character who should have been played by an actor 10 years his junior. His group of friends are played by younger actors in their early 30’s such as Danny Masterson and Bradley Cooper and Deschanel is nearly two decades younger and the hard partying lifestyle his character embraces as part of his philosophy just seems kind of tragic when embodied by a clearly wrinkled star.
Yes Man is fairly easy to digest but also is also fairly easy to forget with a lot of warmed over comedy shtick from it’s leading man, anonymous direction from Reed , a predictable outcome, wasted supporting players and a middling attempt to reinforce the Carrey brand. With his face largely absent from cinema screens over the last three years (The Number 23 aside) and with his last real hit five years ago, this film may restore his box office reputation but it’s clear that he needs to move on from his early Jerry Lewis mode and onto more challenging creative pastures.