- Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes: Jim Carrey gets positive.
Carl Allan (Jim Carrey) is a junior loan officer at a bank who is wasting his life away, turning down all friendly invitations and various opportunities, instead watching videos alone at home. But in Yes Man, Peyton Reed's comedy of wacky affirmation, Carl's life is about to change.
He meets an old friend who exclaims, "I became a Yes Man!" while dragging Carl to a Yes seminar. These Yes Men are unrelated to the political activist pranksters of same name -- and more's the pity, because the last thing the world needs is more unrealistically upbeat self-help nonsense like "Yes is the new no."
The Head Yes Man (Terence Stamp, paying the rent) lays an order on Carl, necessitating him to say yes to everything or suffer dire consequences. Never mind that it seems like a very bad idea to say yes to everything. Imagine the dilemmas: "Al, should I see this movie?" Uh ...
The set-up is just a basic comic tool so we can get: 1. lots of scenes of Carrey doing kooky (yes to Korean lessons, learning to fly, seeing dreadful bands, hosting a bridal shower); and 2. the "real meaning" arc where Carl's newfound yes-ness restores his humanity and nets him a new girlfriend, the free-spirited Allison (Zooey Deschanel).
Yes Man is the sort of Carrey movie that appeals to kids -- the previews and commercials show him in manic pratfall mode -- but this PG-13 also flirts with the gross-out humor of the popular cheerfully vulgar R-rated comedies. Thus, we get a scene where Carrey is freaked out by the romantic advances of his old-lady neighbor played by Fionnula Flanagan, who goes into full sexual-assault mode -- popping out her dentures and heading south. (Parents: Enjoy explaining the film's biggest laugh-getter.)
Deschanel is winsome and charming in an off-beat way that places her above the interchangeable Hollywood starlets usually trotted out for these sorts of films. She was the love interest in Elf, and I sure hope she doesn't end up typecast as the quirky girlfriend to middle-aged man-children straining to be funny.
Fans of HBO's Flight of the Conchords will thrill to see Rhys Darby, who portrays that show's hapless band manager Murray, on board here. The Kiwi funnyman plays a similar role as Carl's socially awkward, largely clueless boss who delights in office nicknames ("Can I call you 'Car'?") and hosts unironic Harry Potter parties.
Carrey operates in Jim Carrey-lite; it's his shtick alright, but he keeps the mugging and silly noises in check. If you're a committed fan, you should find Yes Man funny enough, if rather simplistic: This is a slender comic premise stretched very thin and over a lot of familiar jokes.
I prefer Carrey's darker roles (even if they're failures), and thus enjoyed the few minutes we see of his early No Man self. Carrey's pasted-on pained smile -- as welcoming as a cheap, plastic name-tag -- barely hide his rage at having to make nice socially. Perhaps, too, this is the grimace of an actor trapped by audience expectations (and box-office potential) for playing the endlessly grinning fool.
Starts Fri., Dec. 19.