In Liar Liar (1997) Jim Carrey plays a lawyer who can’t lie and in Yes Man (2008), Jim Carrey plays a loan executive who can’t say no. The similarity between the jokes in each movie is unsurprising. Critics have said the two films are too much alike for the later to be taken very seriously. I can’t think of a good argument against that.
Carl Allan (Jim Carrey) is a depressed recluse. He’s been in this funk for three years since the love of his life left him. He habitually says “no” to everything to avoid complications and unsolicited interaction with people. Despite protests, Carl is dragged to a personal development seminar that promotes a simple idea: “say yes to everything.” Carl is pressured by the motivational speaker, Terrence Bundley (Terence Stamp), to take the challenge to say “Yes” to every request for a year and see how his life changes. Immediately Carl finds himself in the strangest situations; flying lessons, Korean language classes, inviting Mormon missionaries into his home, and guitar lessons. Some of these situations lead him to encounter a pretty young lady named Allison (Zooey Deschanel). She has a unique take on life and engages in a variety of uncommon interests. Between the girl who hosts a jogging photography group and the man who can’t refuse anything, the two of them form an interesting relationship. But Carl soon realizes that not all opportunities should be taken.
Yes Man has an interesting concept; if you are given the option to do something, do it. This will earn you a wild variety of experiences and could lead to a fuller, more interesting life. It can also bring about some aversive side effects. I’m glad Yes Man showed both sides of this. Normally in a story the dramatic tension stems from the choices that the protagonist makes, but in this story, you know exactly how the protagonist will respond to everything that happens to him. No matter what he is faced with, his response is always “yes.” The story quickly becomes dull without a significant conflict and it is reduced to a string of weird situations in which Carl finds himself. This could be pleasant or exciting if it was you experiencing it, but in a movie we expect uncertainty and drama.Yes Man doesn’t really provide much of that until the end when a lot of the consequences of Carl’s actions (he isn’t really making decisions) take effect. Yes Man has an interesting premise, but a weak execution.
I liked more of Jim Carrey’s early work. He was zany, wacky, and funny. Then he started getting typecast as the eccentric weirdo character. Carrey moved into some dramatic roles, the ones of which I have seen were impressive. Seriously, you need to go see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and The Truman Show (1998). Yes Man was sort of a return to the zany comedy that made Jim Carrey so famous to begin with, and it worked well for him. Carrey’s wacky humor kept this film alive when the dramatic tension was essentially gone. The movie has plenty of opportunities to get painfully slow and lose the audience’s attention, but Carrey’s screwball humor manages to keep the audience engaged long enough for the movie to reach its conclusion.
Yes Man is structured like a comedy, and if not for Jim Carrey’s performance it wouldn’t have passed for a very comical film. The movie is a bit more palatable if you think of it as a romantic comedy; the relationship between Carl and Allison is the main driving point in the story.
One of the most awkward scenes in the movie occurs after Carl accepts the “yes” challenge; he suddenly is susceptible to sexual advances of his elderly lady neighbor. It’s not visually explicit; no nudity at all, but I really wish that scene had not made it into the movie. You have been warned.
If you missed Yes Man, don’t get worked up about it. It’s hardly Carrey’s greatest moment. If you get a chance to see it, it may be worth it, but I wouldn’t spend the money renting it unless you are a Jim Carrey fan.