Dec 28, 2008

Yes Man [12A]

Dir: Peyton Reed
Jim Carrey’s last few outings haven’t exactly set the box office alight and so, with Yes Man, he returns to the high concept comedy style that made his name.

Carrey plays Carl Allen, a banker who says no to every opportunity until a friend cajoles him into going to a seminar called ‘Yes is the new no’. At the seminar Carl vows to say ‘Yes’ to any and all opportunities that arise. Yes Man is based on a non-fiction book by British comedian and writer Danny Wallace, but it takes almost nothing besides the title from its source, and is vastly poorer for it. The book is a great read; entertaining and even potentially life changing.  The only change this film may convince you to make in your life is to, in future, say ‘No’ to high concept comedies starring Jim Carrey.

Everything in Yes Man feels forced.  This is a film that is constantly striving, working desperately hard to be kooky, offbeat and funny and with every passing scene it comes up shorter. The frustrating thing is how easy this should have been.  The things that happened to Danny Wallace were unexpected and laugh out loud funny but even when the film takes an idea from the book it does so to make it more conventional, more predictable and distinctly less amusing. An especially good example of this occurs in a fight over a woman at a bar; in the book it’s short and resolved without the expected violence, here we get several wearing minutes of Carrey slurring and flailing to no comic effect.

Danny Wallace's book had a strong central thread that should have made the adaptation simple.  There was the idea of saying yes to everything, and a developing relationship between Danny and an Australian girl called Lizzie. The film shares both the idea and the relationship thread (pairing Carrey, looking every day of his 46 years with Zooey Deschanel, looking several years shy of her 28) but botches both. The relationship suffers most, with a stupid late in the day argument that comes out of nowhere just to justify the film’s third act.

Upsettingly, what Yes Man has become barely even qualifies as a film, rather it is a series of adverts. Product placement seems to get more obnoxious with each passing release week, but here it has taken over almost completely. An entire set piece is given over to Carrey saying the name of a particular energy drink.  Another set piece is essentially a motorbike advert.  The worst offender of all is Warner Brothers. Warner relentlessly plugs its own films throughout, from a vomitous opening sequence of Carrey browsing in Blockbuster flashing various Warner films at the camera, to not one but two scenes given over to Warner character themed costume parties thrown by Rhys Darby as Carrey’s nerdy boss.

I like Jim Carrey a lot, but he seems lost here and never gives Carl much of a personality. He’s a cipher, a shell, we never really get to like him because there’s no reason to be interested in him. Most of the supporting cast suffer the same problem – Bradley Cooper and Carrey’s other assorted friends bland their way through the movie, while Luis Guzman and Fionnula Flannagan pop up in embarrassing and unfunny cameos. Only two people escape with their dignity. Flight of the Conchords’ Rhys Darby does what he can with the weak material and one note role he’s got as Norm, and then there’s Zooey Deschanel.

For all her apparent lack of taste in scripts (other recent offences: The Go GetterThe Happening) the irrepressibly kooky, cute and enchanting Deschanel does always seem to work a little bit of magic whenever she’s on screen. She doesn’t do anything especially challenging here, but she’s so open, charming and silly as Alison that she becomes the only character you are drawn to, indeed the only one who really qualifies as a character. All of the film’s good moments come from Deschanel be it the performances with Alison’s band Munchausen By Proxy, or simply the way she brings out the best in Carrey in their scenes in the film’s first two thirds.  The moment when Carl asks Alison out after a gig is perhaps the only entirely successful moment in the film. One strong performance can’t save a film though and Yes Man is constantly undermined by a weak screenplay and by personality free direction from rentahack Peyton Reed. Just say no.

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