Like the title indicates, Yes Man is about a man who vows to say “yes” to question that’s posed to him, as long as it involved doing something and not just talking about his personal life. Questions like “Would you like to learn Korean?” or “How about we take an impromptu flight to Lincoln, Nebraska?” would be suitable for answer in this fashion. Conversely, “Did you have a girlfriend last year?” would not work.
Jim Carrey plays our lead, a depressed bank loan employee named Carl who doesn’t do anything with anyone. He sits at home, yelling at the movies he watches. In one scene, a man is forced to cut off his own arm, in which he yells: “Come on, just snap it off! You’re already half way there!” He misses his best friend’s bachelor party, because of this attitude. Another friend decides to take him to a seminar, which I can only describe as a cult. The people here believe that saying “yes” to everything will improve your life. Their ringleader is named Terrence (Terrence Stamp), who tells Carl that he needs to turn his life around. He puts some sort of spell on Carl, telling him that if he says no to something, bad things will happen.
So that’s what he does, beginning with driving a homeless man to a park. He even gives the man a wad of cash and lets him use up the battery on his phone. His car ends up running out of gas, so he has to walk back into town to fill up a gas can so that he can get his car home. It’s at the gas station that he meets Allison (Zooey Deschanel), who he instantly falls for. She gives him a ride back to his car, and after joking that they should make out, she kisses him. Is she a member of this cult too? I wondered this, but it turns out she’s just spontaneous — the polar opposite of the old Carl.
There really are two versions of Carl though, which makes it hard to find him saying “yes” to everything all that humorous. There’s no inner conflict, because he ends up wanting to agree, instead of being forced to. Had there actually been a curse that we could see forcing him to act, then it might be funny. But the only thing that happens when he says “no” is that he’ll fall down a flight of stairs or he’ll get his car towed away. Most of the time, he seems perfectly content with going with the flow, fully embracing this new lifestyle.
The only conflict in the story comes much later in the film, when people begin to doubt whether or not his decisions were made because he wanted to make them, or because he believed that he had to. And I don’t blame them, considering every “yes” is delivered with a similar tone of voice and facial expression. This happens far too late in the film for it to be of any consequence, and it happens almost exactly like in many romantic comedies. The girl finds out something, and then runs away, only for the issue to be resolved within 10 minutes. That’s what it felt like here, and after realizing that, Yes Man actually is more romantic comedy than any other genre.
That is, unless “inspirational” is allowed to be a genre, because that’s the best thing that Yes Man has going for it. The story, the characters, the film’s message, all point in one direction: Enjoy life to its fullest. At least it’s a feel-good comedy that will make you reflect a little bit about how you’re living your life. That counts for something in my book, and since the jokes are mostly clean, save for one nasty bit involving an elderly woman, it’s a film you can show to young audiences that will get them thinking too.
This is a film that is Jim Carrey’s, and his alone, with the other actors not getting enough time to shine. Deschanel lights up the screen whenever she appears, but her character goes through twenty minute spells of vanishing completely. Bradley Cooper gets a chance to play Carrey’s best friend, but also doesn’t get much opportunity to do anything. And then there’s Terrence Stamp, who steals all three scenes that he’s in. But that’s all he gets too. I wanted to see less of Carrey and more of the supporting cast.
And then there’s the casting, which just felt off to me. Carrey can act in serious movies, and in comedies, but casting him alongside a bunch of 30-somethings who are supposed to be his best friends seems wrong. Carrey is getting too old to do these kinds of roles, especially when you make the rest of the cast, (sans Stamp, who isn’t playing one of his buddies), a great deal younger than he is. There was just something off-putting about it, and I constantly wondered why he was hanging around with people a great deal younger than he is.
The plot is also predictable, and there probably won’t be a single moment in the film that will surprise you, except for a couple of FBI agents showing up for two scenes, and then disappearing without any real conflict coming from them. But at least it was a surprise. You can see all of the situations as soon as a simple question is asked, because there’s only one outcome. There are times when it’s still funny, but it easily could have been better.
Yes Man is a decent romantic comedy, but could have been improved upon had its lead character actually had some sort of reluctance to saying “yes” to every situation that passed his way. It becomes too predictable and cliché by the end, and although it’s got a good message that everyone can draw from, it’s not funny enough to be called a good comedy. It also mismanages its cast, with the more interesting characters getting pushed to the side so Jim Carrey can be the star.