Jim Carrey has been taking it slow lately. In the last five years, the funny man has made only a half dozen films, several of which he spent trying his dramatic wings and another hidden behind animation. It was probably a good thing. If you're anything like me, you can only handle Carrey in small doses. Yes Man is a pleasant, albeit minor, surprise that actually harkens back to Carrey's glory days with a solid, satisfying comedy that aims to please and mostly hits its mark.
Carl Allen (Carrey) is a bit of a downer, a perpetual naysayer, a real negative Nellie. He says no to just about everything. He can't be bothered. He is constantly turning down invitations, manufacturing wild excuses to get out of having fun. Carl hasn't always been this way, but a recent divorce has turned the otherwise amiable guy into a hermit who would rather closet himself away in the privacy of his own apartment than spend time with his recently engaged best friend (Bradley Cooper). It's not that Carl is socially awkward; he's simply cut himself off from other people. Give him a decade or two and he'll be the crazy guy in the apartment next door. Thankfully for him and us, he's still salvageable.
A chance encounter with an old workmate (John Michael Higgins) leads to a seminar led by a self-help televangelist (Terence Stamp) whose "gospel" is based around one simple principle: say yes to everything. Carl decides to take the message to heart, leading to a series of hilarious incidents in which he learns to play the guitar, takes up Korean, goes bungee jumping, drinks way too much Red Bull, orders a Persian bride on the Internet, and meets the love of his life, an eclectic rocker named Allison (Zooey Deschanel). Though embracing every opportunity that comes along transforms Carl's life in unexpected and amazing ways, it also forces him to wonder, Can you have too much of a good thing?
In many ways, Yes Man is a philosophical successor to Carrey's 1997 hit Liar Liar. Both films deal with forced behavior modification, and feature a character who moves from despicability to likeability through a battery of compulsory and increasingly over-the-top tests that reveal his shortcomings and show the way to make amends. While Carrey's scumball lawyer in Liar Liar was forced to tell the truth, often to his own detriment, via supernatural means, his latest incarnation makes a 180-degree turn of his own volition, actually becoming addicted to the high that comes with a life transformed.
While the memoir by British author Danny Wallace on which the film is based was more of a miniature philosophical treatise that happened to be incidentally funny, the creative team behind Yes Man wisely decided to make their very loosely based film much more about Carrey and his famously extreme antics and plasticized face. The film is reminiscent of Carrey's better comedies (Liar Liar, Bruce Almighty), in which you can practically hear the crew behind the camera cracking up as Carrey improvises scene after scene.
Unlike some films that start strong but wane toward the end, Yes Man actually gets better as it goes along. While it is more interested in making you laugh than changing your life or providing enlightenment and insight into the human condition, Yes Man nonetheless brims with cheerfulness and optimism. You can't help but leave the theater and wonder what would happen if you too said yes to whatever came your way.
This review originally appeared in the Colorado Springs Gazette. Used by permission.Discussion starters
- Do you see any danger in saying "yes" to everything? What is the value in knowing when to say "no?"
- Are you known more for being a positive person or a negative person?
- What if behavior modification happened as quickly in real life as it does in the movies? What is it about persevering through the long, lean times when change seems impossible, that makes us better people in the long run?
- What are some areas of your life where saying "yes" more often is a good idea?
- Incidentally, Carrey's character in Bruce Almighty, when given God's powers, answered "yes" to the millions of prayers from all over the worldand the results were sometimes disastrous. What would happen if God said "yes" to all of your prayers? To everyone's prayers?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Yes Man is rated PG-13 for crude sexual humor, language and brief nudity. There are several objectionable scenes, including a sexual encounter between Carrey's character and his elderly neighbor. The nudity occurs when Carrey's character flees a hospital, forgetting he is clad only in the traditional ER smock.
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