Whichever way you look at it, there’s an unavoidable question that you’re going to have to ask yourself before deciding whether to watch Yes Man at that rosy-cheeked, oh-God-lets get-out-of-the-house post-Christmas matinee showing at the local multiplex. It’s this: can you really put up with Jim Carrey?
The rubber-faced comedian’s career has been as schizophrenic as some of his most madcap creations – taking in hugely successful, but incredibly annoying comedies like Ace Ventura and Liar Liar, through misguided commercial turkeys like The Number 23 and, just once in a while, understated gems like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Whether the idea of spending two hours with Carrey in any of these guises sets your teeth on edge or not is a good barometer of how much you’ll enjoy Carrey’s latest vehicle, The Yes Man, although for the waiverer there may just enough else going on here to convince.
Based on the book by UK author Danny Wallace, Yes Man has the highest of high concepts – a misanthropic man decides to say “yes” to any and every opportunity that comes his way in a bid to improve his moribund social life. Noticing, quite sensibly, that a plot concerning a slightly scruffy journalist living in Bow who cheerfully accepts a job on Richard and Judy wont bring in the big bucks, Bring it On director Peyton Reed has reset the proceedings in Los Angeles, and given Carrey’s Carl the soul-destroying job of approving other people’s loan requests.
After a night at a Scientology-esque ‘Yes’ cult centre (led by Terrence Stamp, no less, in a movie stealing bare-footed cameo), Carl agrees to give a lift to a tramp, which leads to his meeting the kooky-with-a-capital-K Allison, played with doe-eyed sincerity by Zooey Deschanel. Their romance and his career both begin to skyrocket, before his promise to agree to everything begins to backfire spectacularly.
While Carrey has toned his most obnoxious physical tics, especially now that hes demonstrated on a couple of occasions that he can play it straight, Yes Man sees a return to the gurning high jinx of Bruce Almighty, which seem to escalate horribly as his life gets better and better. One scene in particular, after a night on the Red Bulls, will either have the audience in stiches or watching from behind clenched fists.
There is more to like about his character here, though, than in many of his previous incarnations – playing a loser seems to suit him better these days, both in this and his two best films, Eternal Sunshine… and The Truman Show. Hes also lost none of his appetite for Pythonesque slapstick, either, and some of the best gags are the ones that see him fall flat on his face – both physically and metaphorically.
Perhaps wisely, the producers have hired a couple of talented co-stars to take the heat off the leading man, and they set about stealing the show, with Flight Of the Concords Rhys Darby wresting control of the film as Carls charmingly goofy boss who throws Harry Potter-themed parties. Deschanel too, despite being given a bewildering array of cute indie things to do, handles the whole show with guileless enthusiasm, and is given the opportunity to show off her vocal chords (a product of the excellent She & Him collaboration with singer M Ward) in a particularly good concert scene.
Director Peyton Reed brings less of the sharpness to the proceedings than his best film, the bitchy but frothy Bring it On, and Carrey is allowed to go about his positive mission with little threat from the outside world. Even when his ideology begins to crumble around his ears, he is offered too many quick and easy solutions to have the audience really rooting for him, and a ridiculous motorbike set piece near the end loses any of the films remaining grip on credibility. There are good moments, but every time the films clouds threaten to darken, Carrey brightens things up with another zany affirmation.
Yes Man is good comedy fodder, raised slightly above the standard Jim Carrey fare by standout supporting performances. As a one line pitch, a man who says “Yes” to everything should have given a more creative team a huge amount to work with. Unfortunately, it too often feels like a wasted opportunity.