Yes Man is a strange concoction, a mainstream comedy that ultimately fails but does so in a number of interesting ways. Its primary narrative--man decides to change his life by saying "yes" to everything--is a gimmick that too closely replicates one of star Jim Carrey's previous successes (Liar, Liar), and the construction of the story, from set-up to pay-off to conflict to resolution, is the very definition of predictability. But while the high concept is going nowhere, there's all this great stuff happening on the fringes.
Carrey plays Carl, a miserable corporate drone who hasn't gotten over a recent divorce. He says no to everything--invites to parties, calls from his friends, basically any opportunity to do anything other than sit in his apartment watching videos and being unhappy. Then he runs into a former colleague (John Michael Higgins) who seems infinitely happy and free-wheeling. He lets Carl in on his secret: a kooky self-help program that insists that its followers say "yes" to everything. Carl goes to the seminar, is called out by the movement's guru (Terence Stamp), and takes a shot at being a "yes man."
You can probably predict exactly what happens, beat by beat--the initial and shocking success, then the consequences, and then a mad dash of a climax that solves everything. Never mind all that stuff. No doubt the one-sentence logline was what sold the picture, but its least successful scenes are the ones that deal with it most directly (when an elderly neighbor propositions him, he has to say yes! Haw haw!).
Its secret weapon, however, is the marvelous Zooey Deschanel. She's the romantic lead, and although their age difference is a little bothersome (she's 18 years Carrey's junior), there's a genuine sweetness to their relationship; I particularly liked his habit of occasionally picking her up and carrying her into and out of scenes (it plays better than it sounds). They've got a nice chemistry, done great service by her disarmingly off-kilter line readings and ridiculously abundant charisma.
And then there's her band. Deschanel's character, Allison, performs in a strange group called Munchausen By Proxy, and when they're first heard, the movie basically just stops for five minutes or so and lets us enjoy some snippets of their odd and funny songs. Munchausen is great in the same way that Tenacious D is great--not only because the lyrics are clever and funny, but also because the band has a weird, unique sound and, like Jack Black, Deschanel can actually sing (as anyone who's seen Elf or heard her sing in the duo She & Him can attest). So we appreciate a diversion like that one, or the Harry Potter costume party, or the movie's peculiar fascination with Journey's "Separate Ways."
Some of the other supporting performances are enjoyable as well--Higgins livens things up as soon as he arrives (as he often does), Stamp is flat-out terrific in a very brief role, and Luis Guzman makes an unexpected and welcome appearance, though it's a shame his scene ends with such a weak punch line. Bradley Cooper and Danny Masterson, on the other hand, can't do much with their underwritten best friend roles. Carrey is enjoyable, though there's certainly a sense of déjà vu to his performance; that said, his enthusiasm helps sell some of the weaker jokes.
The direction by Peyton Reed (Down With Love, The Break-Up) is energetic, even when the film is generating chuckles and smiles more than big laughs. It's a shame the script isn't just a little bit stronger--it feels as though it were written by a committee, so intent on following the blueprint of Liar, Liar and Carrey's previous successes that they ignored the unique and funny stuff brewing on the side.
The two-disc version of Yes Man, smashes the film and its special features onto the first disc, with the second disc holding a digital copy of the film. Both are housed in a standard-width hinged black plastic keepcase.
For a recent big-budget release, Yes Man's 2.35:1 anamorphic image is surprisingly noisy and unsatisfying. The colors, contrast, and black levels are all average or better, but I spotted occasional edge enhancement and even some compression artifacts on the walls of Carl's drab apartment and other dark backgrounds. It's a pretty weak transfer, and since there's 2.5 GB of unused space on the dual-layer disc, I'm not sure why the image was so highly compressed.
The 5.1 audio mix is much better, with dialogue crisp and clear in the center channel and nice directional effects work in the sides and rear. The early seminar scene is particularly noteworthy, with wild cheering and chanting in all speakers and bass-heavy music pounding the LFE channel, making for a particularly immersive sequence.
Here we have a rare disc where the supplemental material is often funnier and more entertaining than the feature itself. Much of that is thanks to the frequently funny on-set antics of Carrey, as well as the brevity of the featurettes and the welcome inclusion of much more Munchausen By Proxy.
First up is "Downtime on the Set of Yes Man with Jim Carrey" (3:59), a quickie featurette of Carrey and his co-stars goofing off on-set, intercut with brief interview snippets of the star and his director. It's well worth a look--there's some real laughs here. "Jim Carrey: Extreme Yes Man" (11:52) focuses on the stunts and the hairier situations that Carrey put himself into for the film. It's an entertaining package, funnier than these "making-of" pieces tend to be, and includes some interesting tidbits (Carrey performed the film's bungee jump himself, though Reed made sure to schedule it on the last day of shooting) and candid footage (including a set visit by Carrey's daughter and his girlfriend Jenny McCarthy for the bungee jump sequence).
"Future Sounds: Munchausen By Proxy" (3:50) is a clever faux-profile of the band, ostensibly for a music TV show. It ain't Spinal Tap, but it's still pretty funny. Even better are the "Exclusive Munchausen By Proxy Music Videos," which are somewhat misnamed--they're actually full, extended performances of the songs seen in the film, so they're more like extended scenes than music videos. But I'm not gonna argue semantics--they're all quite a bit of fun, with my favorites being "Who Are You?" (3:50) and "Sweet Ballad" (2:55). "Yes Man" (3:08), and "Keystar" (3:16) are also included, as is the band's unique take on "The Star Spangled Banner" (1:16).
Carrey's always good for a funny "Gag Reel" (5:34), as you might recall from the closing credits of Liar, Liar, and this one has some big laughs from not only the star but several members of the supporting cast. In fact, it would have made a better closing-credit cookie than the semi-lame roller-blading sequence that closes the film now.
The Blu-ray disc reportedly includes several additional special features exclusive to that format.
I watched Yes Man just a few hours ago, but I'm already looking back on it fondly. But I'm only remembering the highlights and forgetting the flaws, which are real and problematic. Peyton Reed and his talented cast have put together a tremendously likable movie, but it's a shade too predictable, with not quite enough laughs. That said, it's the kind of movie that rentals were made for--give it a spin on a Sunday afternoon, and you'll probably have a pretty good time.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their two cats in New York and holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.