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Yes Man Is Pretty Ridiculous, But It’s Worthwhile

Yes Man
Directed by Peyton Reed
Written by Nicholas Stoller, Jarrad Paul, and Andrew Mogel based on the book by Danny Wallace
Warner Bros., 2008

Jim Carrey’s bread and butter over the years has been the concept comedy.  It began in the summer of 1994, the year Carrey became a star, with The Mask.  He would repeat the success with Liar, Liar three years later, then on to Me, Myself, and Irene, and then Bruce Almighty.  All of these comedies have something in common: it’s about an everyday guy who undergoes some sort of drastic transformation that changes the way he approaches the world for a limited time.  Some of the effects are good, some are bad, a lesson is learned, and hopefully we’ve laughed on our way there.

I have pretty much laughed on my way there through most of the Carrey comedies, although I’ve grown out of The Mask (I was 17 then, and think it’s pretty awful now) and never really liked Bruce Almighty.  But I’ve enjoyed the playgrounds in which the contorting and overextending Carrey has been able to frolic around in over the years, and I have missed those antics as Carrey has been stuck in traditional fare like Fun with Dick and Jane and that terrible horror flick The Number 23.  And while I loved Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I still want to see Carrey do what he does best.  Hell, I miss Tom Hanks and what he used to do so well in the eighties.  I like to see these guys branch out, but there’s nothing wrong with doing what got you famous in the first place.

Carl Allen (Carrey) is a depressed schlub who doesn’t go out anymore.  His “night out” nowadays is to go rent some movies and spend time by himself, he’s ignoring phone calls from friends, and he’s rejecting any form of social interaction.  His best friend Peter (Bradley Cooper) is trying to break him out of this shell he’s gotten himself into since Carl’s divorce, especially since Peter himself is about to get married and he wants his friend to get back to normal for the festivities.  But, on a night out with Peter, his future wife Lucy (Sasha Alexander), and his other friend Rooney (Danny Masterson), Carl’s crippling at seeing his ex-wife Stephanie (Molly Sims) ruins the night, and he’s ready to crawl back into a hole.  He misses Peter’s engagement party, and it looks like he’s going to have no friends if he continues along this path.

Carl is a loan officer at a bank, and he has to fight off the boss who wants to be his buddy, Norman (The Flight of the Conchords‘ Rhys Darby).  But an acquaintance, Nick (John Michael Higgins), meets him at the bank and tells him about this program where you start saying “Yes,” to everything.  He somehow gets Carl to come to the seminar, led by Terrence Bundley (Terence Stamp), and after singling out Carl in the crowd, like a cult leader he’s able to convert Carl into a “yes man.”  So every opportunity that is brought to him after he leaves the seminar, he is to say, “Yes,” and to say, “No,” is breaking a “covenant” between he and Terrence.

So, he starts saying yes, and the immediate effects aren’t apparent, but he meets a cute biker by the name of Allison (Zooey Deschanel, who could go ahead and do the biography on Katy Perry they look so alike), and even though their meeting seems to be a one-time thing, his saying yes eventually gets him to meet her again.  And, he’s saying yes to people at the bank all the time now, too.  And he’s going to his boss’ stupid parties.  He’s saying yes to internet offers (make your penis larger!) and bulletin board items (learn Korean!).  His friends take advantage of it, getting him to pay for tabs and making him agree to things that any normal person would have a hard time granting.  But, it seems like when he says no, bad things happen (Welcome to the My Name Is Earl theme of the movie.  Of course, saying yes to everything doesn’t seem to work all the time, either.

I have quite a few beefs with the movie, but considering that comedies are meant to make you laugh, they can get away with a lot of plot issues as long as they reach that goal.  The plotting issues here are that there are only a couple of plot developments where Carl’s saying yes lead to anything meaningful, and there are many instances where there would be bigger problems.  Like, nothing really comes out of going to his boss’ parties, and a tremendously convoluted set of circumstances lead to the big “misunderstanding” scene that happens in all love stories.  I also think some comedy gold could have been mined from his friends’ taking advantage of Carl’s new philosophy.  While you see this a little bit, it’s not nearly enough.

But all in all, this is a decent return for Carrey.  It’s not nearly as funny as the best of his nineties comedies, but it does the job for the most part.  I just hope he can do a few more of these before he decides, well, I’m in my fifties, time to do all serious work now.

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