Yes Man

nebraskaIn the 1997 hit Liar Liar Jim Carrey played the role of a lawyer who suddenly finds himself unable to lie. In Yes Man he becomes a bank loan executive who cannot say “no” to anything. But where the former found comedy in the tension between wanting to lie and being compelled to tell the truth, Yes Man falls flat because there is nothing intrinsically funny about a loan officer having to approve loans and also wanting to.

When the film opens, Carrey’s character Carl is a down-in-the-dumps recluse who has shunned his friends and ignored his answer machine messages for three years, ever since the love of his life walked out on him. His negative attitude proves useful in his job, which involves consistently rejecting his customers’ loan applications. It also means he is unfriendly to everyone he meets, including his chipper boss Norm (Rhys Darby) who is desperate to win Carl’s friendship.

Then one day one of his old chums drags him, kicking and screaming, to a seminar in which “Yes” guru Terrence Bundley (Terence Stamp) preaches a simple message: turn your life around by saying “yes” to everything that comes your way. Carl swallows the lot, hook line and sinker, saying “yes” to Korean classes, flying lessons, funding his friend’s hen night and every loan that crosses his desk. Even the more unpleasant ramifications of his decision fail to dampen his new found joie de vivre . When a homeless man (Brent Briscoe) asks Carl to hand over all of his money, he does exactly that. And when the sex-crazed pensioner next door (Fionnula Flanagan) propositions him – well, let’s not even go there.

The great flaw of the film’s premise is that you know the outcome of every set-up before it happens. When Carl meets a pretty, kooky girl named Allison (Zooey Deschanel) who’s so young she could be his daughter, he is evidently destined to fall in love with her. We can also predict what will happen when she doubts his love, since he only said “yes” to going out with her because of his earlier vow. Which leads us to the startling conclusion that whilst always saying “no” turns you into a hopeless recluse, indiscriminately saying “yes” to everything isn’t such a great idea either.

Ideas too often seem ill thought out, and, if followed through to their logical conclusion would render the film’s many awkward situations implausible. How can a lowly bank worker whom, it is implied, has never received a promotion afford to fund a lavish lifestyle of all-night drinking sessions, impromptu flights to Nebraska and expensive memory mattresses (an unashamed piece of product placement)? Too often Yes Man seemed like an artless ode to materialism.

Jim Carrey has some good moments, mainly when he is allowed to take his eyes off the initial premise and just be himself. Particularly touching are his exchanges with his socially maladroit boss, whose unabashed enthusiasm for celebrity-shaped cakes and Harry Potter parties is infectious. But Carrey’s face has grown older and more tired over the years. He is too grown up for the all-out silliness that his role requires.

Yes Man is a watchable comedy which rarely rises to hilarity.

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