Earlier today, on a plane, as I sought distraction from the fact that I was almost a mile above the ground and suspended by nothing, I found a quantum of solace (and only a quantum) in last Christmas’s Yes Man, just released on DVD and Blu-Ray, starring Jim Carrey. It’s not a good movie and I can’t say I particularly 100% enjoyed it. But something about its triumphant mediocrity is actually worthy of exploration. So I’ll explore.
When I was a kid, I have to admit to having been quite the Jim Carrey fanatic. I was a rabid whore for all of his movies and was totally sold by his goofy gangly cartoon-man schtick. And I’m not totally shunning it today, either. A lot of those movies still kinda hold up for me on a certain level. I still love my Ace Ventura, and my Dumb and Dumber, and my The Mask. They’re funny little movies. But is there still a place for the Jim Carrey comedy vehicle, or has the world moved on?
If you’ve seen a trailer, a commercial, read a review, heard the title, or saw Liar Liar, then you already know what Yes Man is about. Carrey plays Carl, a loan officer who is always telling everyone “no” about everything. He turns down party invitations, new opportunities, phone calls, everything. His “best friend” (Bradley Cooper, Midnight Meat Train) complains to him that he never hangs out with him. I can’t wonder how they were ever friends in the first place. Carrey’s close-mindedness is kinda cartoonishly exaggerated so that when he later becomes a “yes man,” it’s that much more of a cool new thing for him.
One fateful day outside his place of business he runs into an old acquaintance (John Michael Higgins) who tells him that life is full of great opportunities and adventures, if he’s just willing to say “yes” more often and be…(come on, all together, everyone!)…a YES MAN! He gives him a flyer for a seminar being put on by motivational speaker Terrence Bundley (Terrence Stamp) and through some inevitable last-straw plot points, Carl decides to go. And soon after he challenges himself to become the titular yes man.
From here on out, we basically watch Carl living his new fulfilling life and all of the stupendous joys and amusing encounters it brings to him. He meets Zooey Deschanel’s character, Allison, and the two begin dating, frequently going on spontaneous flights of fancy and conquering the world one irresposible decision at a time.
I hesitate to call Yes Man a “bad movie,” although there’s certainly some really bad stuff in it. For one thing, the whole concept is obnoxiously contrived, and that bugged the crap out of me. But after awhile it settles in with itself and becomes what we were all tapping our watches and waiting for it to become: one giant montage. The movie exists to show us Carl doing this, Carl doing that, Carl doing another thing, and Carl learning a lesson from it all.
It has a very similar structure to Liar Liar (except that Liar Liar was much better). They both sort of have inexplicable supernatural elements to them. In Liar Liar, whatever cosmic forces there are that control these things are controlling Carrey’s ability to tell a lie. In Yes Man, as soon as he says no to something, bad things start to befall him as if it were karma. (The explanation for it is this whole freaky Terrence Stamp “you have to keep a promise that you make to yourself” kind of bullshit.) And of course they both follow the Jim-Carrey-has-to-make-this-wild-and-crazy-lifestyle-change-for-awhile formula. But Yes Man is seriously lacking in the comedy department. It doesn’t have a single scene that is nearly as good or as funny as that Roasting the Boss scene from Liar. To this day I still find myself randomly shouting “Simmons is old!” Funny shit.
Some of the movie is kinda funny, but on paper it must have been absolute trash. It’s really a film full of bad material being made not-excruciating by good comedic performances. Carrey is doing his Carrey thing, and sometimes it’s a little annoying (a little on the this-was-funny-ten-years-ago-now-stop side), but sometimes it’s pretty funny. In a dream sequence where Carl’s friends find him dead in his apartment, Carrey’s oddly contorted corpse face is rather priceless and classically him. And there are some other funny bits with Deschanel, Cooper, Stamp, Higgins, and Rhy Darby (Murray on Flight of the Conchords) who plays Carl’s nice but squirrely boss who just wants to be his friend. There’s also an obligatory everyone-singing-together moment where Carl helps talk down Luiz Guzman from jumping off a building that I have to admit to finding kinda enjoyable.
But as much as I did sort of enjoy some of this stuff and have acknowledged it as funny, I wasn’t really laughing and neither was anyone else on the plane who was bothering to watch it. My reactions came more as acknowledging smirks, if that. Maybe the Jim Carrey brand of comedy has just sort of run its course. But if that’s true, why does Ace Ventura still hold up? Nostalgia? Must be. At the end of Yes Man, kinda like at the end of Bruce Almighty (a film that also followed the Liar Liar formula and no wonder–it was the same director), I was overcome by how aggressively disposable it was. It almost felt like it didn’t even happen. Hell, maybe it didn’t. Beyond a certain point, there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with it–it’s all harmless enough and there were even some clever touches towards the end–it’s just so damn forgettable.
The DVD hit streets this past Tuesday. Special features consist of a few featurettes entitled “Downtime on the Set of Yes Man with Jim Carrey,” which I suppose is what it says it is, “Extreme Yes Man,” which is about all of Carrey’s physical stunts, and a featurette about Deschanel’s fictional band from the film, Munchausen By Proxy, as well as a few music videos.
So, like the the headline says: slide this in your machine…or don’t. Either way, you ought to know what you’re getting yourself into.