Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Yes, Man!

Poster art for "Yes Man."
In Yes Man, Jim Carrey stars as Carl Allen, a guy whose life is going nowhere—the operative word being “no”—until he signs up for a self-help program based on one simple covenant: say yes to everything...and anything. Unleashing the power of “YES” begins to transform Carl’s life in amazing and unexpected ways, getting him promoted at work and opening the door to a new romance. But his willingness to embrace every opportunity might just become too much of a good thing.

Jim Carrey as Carl Allen and Terence Stamp as Terrence Bundly in "Yes Man."

In Yes Man, a surprisingly winning comedy based on Danny Wallace's book about a closed-off man who says yes to everything. That man is Carrey, as Carl Allen, a junior loan officer at a bank who, after the break-up of his marriage, becomes a loner of the first order, preferring nights alone with rented videos to spending time with anyone. He says no to everything, be it a guy handing out fliers for local bands to customers applying for small-business loans. His best friends Peter (Bradley Cooper) and Rooney (Danny Masterson) has little success in drawing him out, but a chance meeting with an old acquaintance, Nick (John Michael Higgins) leads him to a seminar with cultlike overtones led by Terrence Bundley (Terence Stamp) - the cult of yes. In a scene downright creepy for its attention to snake-oil salesman detail, Carl agrees to say yes to everything, a decision that at first seems disastrous but, as one might expect, leads to bigger and better things. First and foremost is his meeting Allison (Zooey Deschanel), a free-spirited sort who performs with a band with the inspired name Munchausen by Proxy that seems to be at least half performance-art ensemble. She also leads a class in jogging photography - that is, not taking pictures of joggers, but taking pictures while you jog. Whatever. If you get caught up in details in a movie like this, you may never get out alive. The point, rather obviously, is that it's important to open yourself up to possibilities, something that Carl was closed to in his former, nay-saying life. So now he's fighting in bars, taking flying lessons, learning to speak Korean. And he's enjoying life with Allison, his membership in Persianbridefinder.com notwithstanding. Actually, his relationship with Faranoosh (Anna Khaja), his would-be bride, is an example of what makes the movie work. It could be a one-off joke, but it's not. Director Peyton Reed doesn't abandon her, but works her into several scenes; Reed trusts the audience to play along and accept her presence. It makes the movie a lot funnier, and a lot better. That's the secret to the film's success, in fact - Reed sells the absurdity around the margins completely, which tones down Carrey's performance by comparison. Rhys Darby, for instance, plays Carl's boss, a pathetic sort who hosts social black-hole events like Harry Potter-themed costume parties. OK, fine. What elevates Yes Man isn't the losers on parade at the party, but the never-introduced little guy wearing a Dobby outfit who sits through showings of the Potter films, never removing his mask. He's always just sort of . . . there, at the edge of the screen, and if you bother to notice, it eventually becomes really funny. Deschanel is charming enough, but playing a free spirit in a film with Jim Carrey is a tall order. Yet Carrey comes off more genuine than usual, finding the humor in Carl's transformation without overdoing it (much). Is Yes Man worth the trouble, then? One word, Yes! A 4 on my "Go See" scale.

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