by Scott Mendelson
There is a scene about halfway through the Jim Carrey vehicle Yes Man where Zooey Deschanel shows up to a costume party dressed as Heroine Granger from the Harry Potter series. The rest of the film is also more or less worth the price of admission.
There is something to be said for simply spending a couple hours with good company, simply watching good things happening to relatively good people. Especially in the Oscar season, where everything else involves miserable, self-loathing people dying just before or just after they figure out what went wrong, a movie like Yes Man is a perfect counter programming. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's good, but it is fun. Jim Carrey is relatively restrained (his mugging marred the otherwise witty, ahead-of-its time Fun With Dick And Jane), and it corrects a serious flaw that has infected some of Jim Carrey's other comedies: this time, the supporting cast is allowed to be funny too.
A token amount of plot: Carl Allen has been shell-shocked since the dissolution of his marriage three years prior. He spends his days as a near-zombie, drifting through his job (he's a loan officer at a bank), barely maintaining contact with his few remaining friends, and basically refusing to make any attempt at actually living. All that changes when an acquaintance talks him into attending a self-help seminar where the overriding principle is to say 'Yes' to each and every opportunity that comes your way. Life changes and would-be hilarity ensue as Carl says yes to various odd opportunities (flying lessons, penis enlargers, etc). Oh, and his first 'yes' activity (giving a ride to a homeless man) allows him to accidentally bump into quirky musician/photographer Allison (Deschanel), an event that blossoms into a promising new romantic entanglement.
There isn't much that occurs in Yes Man that defies predictability, but that doesn't mean that it isn't relatively effective. As mentioned above, the supporting cast is allowed to shine more so than usual in Jim Carrey comedies (yes Cameron Diaz looked great in The Mask, but did she make a single joke?). Terence Stamp is surprisingly hilarious as the self-help guru that sets the plot in motion (basically, he wins laughs by being 'Terence Stamp as the self-help guru'). Bradley Cooper is put to better use here than in The Wedding Crashers as Peter, Carl's best friend. They actually seem like old friends and when Peter needs to tell Carl some uncomfortable truths, it actually feels authentic. Deschanel scores solid laughs with a shockingly terrible piece of performance art that the film can't decide whether to mock or applaud.
In fact, for much of the film, Jim Carrey comes off as the proverbial straight man, reacting to the various goofy situations or pleasant developments. Jim Carrey is far more restrained than he usually is in his comedy vehicle. Mugging is kept to a minimum, and he even underplays the loneliness and sullenness in the opening act. And much of Carrey's humor in the film comes not from pratfalls and rubber-band facial expressions, but from the fact that Carl is a good natured and funny fellow.
I always took Bruce Almighty, with its arc of Bruce ditching his 'serious anchor' gig for the wacky newsman routine at which he excelled, as a metaphor for Jim Carrey's acceptance of the fact that audiences prefer him to be zany and make them laugh (and that its just as important to be a great comedian as a 'serious actor'). By that token, Yes Man can be construed as a final acknowledgment that the drive for acceptance, which has haunted Carrey since his traumatic childhood, has finally been quashed. He now realizes that, to paraphrase Minnesota's next senator, he is 'good enough, smart enough, and gosh-darn it, people DO like him'. It's certainly possible that winning the self-esteem war may result in less edgy, less challenging projects (think Eddie Murphy), but the man deserves a little happiness. If the slightly generic Yes Man is symbolic of the new, happier Jim Carrey, then it is a small price to pay for his peace of mind.
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