As someone whose opinion of Jim Carrey falls between loathing and vague tolerance, I must begrudgingly admit that I didn’t mind Carrey’s latest film, Yes Man. This isn’t exactly a shining endorsement, but judging from a trailer whose centerpiece gag is Carrey—at his most rubber-faced—overdosing on Red Bull, there were grounds for trepidation. Keep in mind: This is the same man who, 14 years ago, built a career on bending over and talking out of his own hindquarters in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, so finding this movie occasionally entertaining and often very likable comes as a bit of a surprise.
Most of this is predicated on the feeling that this movie wasn’t initially written as a Jim Carrey showcase. Sure, the movie is of the high-concept variety (think Bruce Almighty (2003) or Liar Liar (1997)), but it’s not tailor-made for the patented Carrey screen-mugging. This doesn’t keep his usual hamming from creeping in from time to time—the aforementioned Red Bull scene and a bout of drunken carousing are the most serious offenders—but it’s kept to a minimum. In reality, it’s likely a movie that would’ve been helped by casting a younger, lesser known actor as its lead, someone who doesn’t have the attached stigma of a screen persona to live up to. Regardless, Carrey never embarrasses himself and is smart enough not to overindulge too much. In this regard, it’s less a movie built around Carrey’s “talents”—as it’s been marketed—as it is one that just happens to star the actor.
The setup is a simple one. Carrey plays Carl, a lonely, sullen man who works a dead-end job as a loan officer while spending his free time watching terrible movies alone in his apartment. Still struggling to get past his now three-year-old divorce, Carl’s modus operandi is to say “no” to pretty much any opportunity or invitation and instead just keep to himself. It’s not until he lets down his best friend (Bradley Cooper, Midnight Meat Train) that he decides to attend a self-help seminar that expounds the virtues of saying “yes” to everything. By embracing this philosophy and never saying “no,” Carl’s comic mishaps soon follow, from learning Korean to an unwanted sexual encounter with his elderly neighbor to falling in love with a quirky musician (Zooey Deschanel) in a sea horse-themed New Wave band and, of course, learning important life lessons (ones that, granted, any rational adult already knows).
It helps that Carl is an actual adult, instead of the goober of a man-child Carrey often plays, giving the actor at least the opportunity to indulge in his more subdued side. In addition, it helps that the cast isn’t made up of the usual flavor-of-the-week stand-up comedians or hangers-on that are found in a lot of modern comedies. It’s an idea that becomes humbling once one realizes that Luis Guzmán’s cameo in the film would’ve been handed over to Rob Schneider if this were an Adam Sandler picture. Instead, for the most part, we get people who can actually act. Terence Stamp as Carl’s self-help guru does a nice job of classing things up, while Deschanel appears to be slowly moving back to respectability after wandering dewy-eyed and dumbstruck throughout The Happening (2008).
In this sense, it’s a pity that the movie devolves into a paint-by-numbers romantic comedy. That is, if you can swallow the eccentric Deschanel falling for the goofy, relatively straight-laced Carrey who’s 18 years her senior. Regardless, it all leads to the requisite misunderstanding, the usual quixotic romantic gesture and a speechified moral that ties everything up nice and tidy. The romcom turn the movie takes doesn’t quite ruin it, but it does take what could’ve been a nice, surprising little picture and turns into just another run-of-the-mill one. Rated PG-13 for crude sexual humor, language and brief nudity.