Yes Men: Peyton Reed’s Comedy, Starring Jim Carrey

Whether or not you like Jim Carrey’s new comedy, “Yes Men,” would largely depend on the issue of credibility: Do you believe the endlessly elastic funny man to be a long-faced, depressed lawn officer

 

As directed by Peyton Reed, a proficient, unpretentious, but also unexciting helmer (“The Break-Up,” “Bring It On”), “Yes Men” is very much a star vehicle, in which Carrey doesn’t get so much to stretch his acting or comedic skills as his does to move his face and body muscles. 

 

Like most of Carrey’s work (specifically “Liar, Liar”), “Yes Men” is a high-concept film.  The screenplay, penned by Nicholas Stoller and Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel, based on the best-selling memoir by Danny Wallace (which I have not read), centers on Carl Allen (Carrey), a sour middle-age man, whose career and whole life are in a rut. When he’s not turning down loan applications at the bank, he is turning down social invitations from his friends.  He is a couch potato, watching television alone, feeling sorry for himself and for the way his life has turned out to be.

 

The point of the scenario is to throw a basically good-natured man, who has avoided life, into a situation that will force him to rejoin and to relish his life.  To a large extent, we have all been in similar situations like Carl, where our instinctive reaction is to say no and reject an offer or an invitation, only to regret it moments later and acknowledge quietly to ourselves that we could have done better, or at least lived differently.

 

I wish the incentive and motivation were not psychologistic—the movie is a primer for psychobabble. Carl’s life takes an unexpectedly radical turn, when he grudgingly attends a self-help seminar led by a “Yes” guru (Terence Stamp), who urges his devotees to say yes more often and to be open to transforming their lives in small and big ways.  Lo and behold, the initially skeptical Carl agrees to try spontaneity by saying yes to everything.

 

Potentially, the list of items one can say yes to is long—it’s a good, fertile turf for comedy—but the scripters, for whatever reasons, have chosen only several.

 

Carrey tries to play Carl is a “normal” guy, a man who just needs a jumpstart, provided by something like the Yes seminar.  The comedy is slender for a feature-length movie, but it boasts a positive, upbeat spirit that may inspire audiences in these grim times, not to mention that most of the Oscar bait films are grave, serious, and even depressing.

 

The film benefits immensely from the presence of the charming actress Zooey Deschanel, who plays Allison.  If Carl’s journey off the couch and into life starts when he steps out of the Yes seminar, he really begins to appreciate life’s new possibilities after a chance meeting with the intriguing, free-spirited woman, who comes upon him late at night as he’s filling up a gas can and facing a long walk back to his empty car. She offers him a ride and he says a big yes.  Attractive and cool, Allison is not only spontaneous, she is ultra-creative: She’s a band member who sings, she paints, and she takes photographs

 

Also good is Bradley Cooper as Carl’s best friend, Peter, who is repeatedly frustrated by Carl’s refusals to take part in life more than two years after his divorce. Together, these two guys convey the notion of a real camaraderie, men who go through all the travails together. Peter also functions as a spectator, because it is through his eyes that we watch and enjoy Carl’s out-of-the-ordinary behavior.

 

Generosity of spirit informs “Yes Men,” which is basically a message picture, suggesting that saying yes means you are open to the infinite possibilities life offers, that great things may happen.

 

Frank Capra would have liked the theme and sermon, if not execution of Reed’s comedy, which is not only underdeveloped, but also not very funny–even by Carrey’s own comedic standards.

 

Cast

Carl – Jim Carrey
Allison – Zooey Deschanel
Peter – Bradley Cooper
Nick – John Michael Higgins
Norman – Rhys Darby
Rooney – Danny Masterson
Tillie -Fionnula Flanagan
Terrence -Terrence Stamp