Review: YES MAN

     December 18, 2008

Written by Matt Goldberg

Jim Carrey was the first movie star I idolized. I was the kid in 4th grade going around the playground saying “All righty then!” but not yet able to comprehend why I wasn’t the most popular kid in school. But I was devout. I thought “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” was one of the funniest films ever made and I saw “The Mask” and “Dumb and Dumber” numerous times in theatres before buying them on VHS so I could watch them some more. I loved his comic timing. I loved that he just threw himself into the joke at all costs.

While my appreciation for Carrey has diminished over the years simply as a virtue of growing up and discovering better comedians and actors, I continue to admire how he changed courses in his career. You see, doing stand-up, Carrey was renowned for his impressions. He could passably do the voices but his face could stretch into anything. It was funny and moderately successful but it was limited. So he decided to take a chance, throw out what he knew, and start from scratch. He looked at the long term of his career and he made a conscious decision to try and be better. It paid off. Had he stuck to impersonations, he’d be, at best, Frank Caliendo.

That’s why it’s disheartening to see him regress about fifteen years for “Yes Man”. It’s a cute film and it’s got a positive message, but for Carrey, it’s a huge step back in his career. His physical comedy just feels like old schtick and he almost loses the movie to supporting performances from Rhys Darby (Murray from “Flight of the Conchords”) and Terrence Stamp (Zod from The Phantom Zone).

“Yes Man” focuses on Carl Allen (Carrey) who has completely shut down after being dumped by his girlfriend. He has turned the act of saying “No” into an art and it’s turning him into a shitty friend and a worthless human being. Thankfully, an old friend (John Michael Higgins) convinces him to join a self-help movement and become a “Yes Man” where he will say “Yes” to every opportunity that presents itself. After being making a “covenant” with the movement’s leader (Stamp), Carl’s life opens up and he finds love and happiness.

It’s hard not to get behind the message of “Yes Man”. While you obviously shouldn’t say “Yes” to everything (I’d recommend turning down heroin and World of Warcraft), it’s foolhardy to turn down possibilities, even if they seem scary at first. Unfortunately, it’s hard for such a positive message to lead to a genuine conflict which is why the film’s third act, where Carl’s new girlfriend, Allison (Zooey Deschanel, who may be the worst actor of her generation if she’s unable to find a tone other than “sardonic”), discovers his involvement with the movement and feels like Carl is with her because he’s supposed to say “Yes” rather than genuinely wanting it. Like I said: pretty weak stuff.

Thankfully, director Peyton Reed knows his comedy and he’s able to somewhat restrain Carrey and more importantly, find charm in corny situations. While I really didn’t care for Reed’s last film, “The Break-Up”, he has shown once again that he’s not a director to be underestimated and as he did with “Bring It On”, he manages to find what’s enjoyable and lets us come to it rather than attempting to browbeat us with jokes.

But this is Carrey’s film and judging by the audience I saw this film with, the people still love him. They don’t see the Jim Carrey I see. The Jim Carrey of 2008 makes them laugh as much as the Jim Carrey of 1994 and so if I think general audiences will enjoy it and shouldn’t have a problem winning the weekend box office. I found myself laughing at Carrey’s antics as well but there was an undercurrent of sadness to it all. Here is a guy that’s constantly tried to broaden and expand his career, just like when he was a stand-up. In some ways it’s earned him more respect but in others, he remains overlooked. He received no Oscar nominations for “The Truman Show”, “Man on the Moon”, or “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”. And sure, “The Number 23” is a horrible film, but you have to give the guy credit for not staying in his comfortable comedy cocoon.

But he’s a bonafide star. Is he afraid he’s going to lose it all if he keeps taking risky projects? If he doesn’t do the surefire studio hit he won’t be able to do another film like “Eternal Sunshine”? It seems like he’s no longer enjoying it and the energy he brings to the performance feels forced. He doesn’t want to do the funny voices and wacky faces. He wants to be more than mainstream. And since he keeps breaking away, like with his next film, “I Love You Phillip Morris”, I can tolerate films like “Yes Man”. My question for Carrey is: can he?

Rating —– B minus

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