Carl Allen (Carrey) has a bad habit of
avoiding people at all costs, from busily rejecting applications in his
job as a bank loan officer or turning down get-togethers with his
friends. So it’s no wonder that Carl’s recent marriage only lasted six
months because his ex-spouse Stephanie (Molly Sims) was unhappy with
Carl’s lack of spontaneity, and this relationship failure has only
furthered Carl’s metamorphosis into full-time hermit. But Carl’s
negativity does a 180 when he’s dragooned by his strange buddy Nick (Fred Claus’
John Michael Higgins) to attend a seminar hosted by new-age swami
Terrence Bundley (Terence Stamp), whose mantra is “Yes is the new No.”
Seeing red: Jim Carrey and Zooey Deschanel in Yes Man.
Carl isn’t exactly brainwashed by
Bundley’s bull but he does agree to accentuate the positive, starting
with saying yes to the demands of a hobo (Brent Briscoe) for a car
ride, usage of Carl’s cell phone and some quick cash. Yet there’s a
bright side to everything: If Carl didn’t help out the bum and run out
of gas along the lengthy way, he wouldn’t have been at a gas station to
meet Allison (Zooey Deschanel), a fetching free spirit who could also
free Carl from his current depression. And if this plot element sounds
a tad like It’s a Wonderful Life, watch what happens when Carl starts OKing some George Bailey-esque loans down at the bank.
Director Peyton Reed, who has guided The Break-Up, Bring It On and the underrated Doris Day-Rock Hudson homage Down With Love, has a generous way with Yes Man’s supporting players. Stealing every scene he’s in is New Zealand stand-up comic Rhys Darby (HBO’s Flight of the Conchords) as Carl’s flaky boss Norman, a pop-culture nerd who resembles Michael Caine in his Alfie
days. Fionnula Flanagan, the 67-year-old Dublin-bred stage actress best
known for her interpretations of James Joyce, has a raunchy bit
involving dentures as Carl’s horny neighbor. And an uncredited Luis
Guzman is appropriately antic as a suicidal ledge-climber who becomes
annoyed by Carl’s rescue attempts.
Reed also makes solid use of Los Angeles
locations, including the Hollywood Bowl as a romantic backdrop for Carl
and Allison, and some neat visual moments near Griffith Observatory.
Yet Reed has overall problems navigating the seize-the-day screenplay
by Nicholas Stoller, Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogul, which is based on
Danny Wallace’s novel. The satire that should develop regarding
self-help gurus and their cultish followers turns out to be a missed
opportunity, while slapstick bits like Carl wearing a hospital gown
aboard a motorcycle (yup, you see Carrey’s plumber’s crack) feel more
obligatory than inspired.
Altthough she’s mostly replaying her similar role from Elf,
Deschanel holds up her end of the film’s lovey-dovey center, especially
when her Allison provides deadpan lyrics as the lead singer of a
neighborhood band titled Munchausen by Proxy. Yet some viewers might
notice that while Carrey can still handle his rubbery-faced shtick,
such as his Carl getting jazzed on too much Red Bull, he seems to be
getting a bit long in the tooth for this sort of manic comedy. Given
the 18-year age difference between the romantic leads, Yes Man
sometimes has an unwanted May-December texture; Carrey’s no Cary Grant
by a long shot. Still, Carrey is as bulletproof as they come, and
yuletide audiences in search of easy laughs won’t be saying “Maybe not”
to the middling Yes Man.