There is nothing remotely Christmassy about the new Jim Carrey movie – released in cinemas on Boxing Day – but it is a film of great good cheer.
It’s been a while since Carrey did an out and out comedy – unless you count Fun With Dick and Jane, which we don’t. Yes Man isn’t going to figure in any top ten lists or Oscar prognostications, but it takes a simple idea and runs with it, reminding us how Carrey became such a big star in the first place.
Carl Allen is a bank loans officer (like Stanley in The Mask), a divorcee who lives alone and prefers it that way. He’d rather watch 300 or Transformers at home than venture out for a drink with friends. He’s switched off, like his mobile.
Would a guy like this get himself to a lecture on the powers of positive thinking? Probably. Who else do the self-appointed self-help gurus feed on, if not the lonely and the miserable, or those who suspect they might be? In a variation on the role he played in Bowfinger, Terence Stamp makes a masterly (and very funny) pitch for the joys of "Yes", and Carl is browbeaten into signing on. Within minutes of the meeting he’s given a homeless guy a lift to the middle of nowhere, meekly handed over his cash, and found himself stranded. Good karma kicks in when he bumps into Allison (Zooey Deschanel), a kindly kook on scooter. Maybe there is something to this "Just say Yes" ethos after all…
At any rate, we would like to think so. In reality, Carl would probably be destitute or in prison before the week was out – unless he had a book and BBC TV deal to back him up, like Danny Wallace, who gave this idea a whirl a few years ago.
The screenwriters have ditched almost all of Wallace’s non-fiction book in moving it to California and grooming the material for Carrey (Wallace went to Amsterdam, Carl takes the first flight out of LAX to Lincoln, Nebraska). But that’s by the by, it’s the idea that counts. For Carl, saying yes indiscriminately unlocks doors he hadn’t even noticed before. He even gets a promotion. Surely a government job can’t be far behind.
A restless personality at odds with himself: this is prime Carrey territory, and he throws himself into it with the zeal that is his trademark. Yes Man often feels like an unofficial follow-up to Liar, Liar, where he played a lawyer cursed to speak nothing but the truth. Does he repeat himself? Well, what comedy star doesn’t? Personal growth is like an addiction to Carl, something painful and euphoric, and he gives himself over to it completely. Of course, this could be a radically different story according to the nature of the propositions that come his way. It’s probably just as well he steers clear of the dark side of town (though he can’t avoid the advances of his sexagenarian neighbour, Fionnula Flanagan).
One of the most consistently fresh and engaging actresses around, Zooey Deschanel proves a surprisingly good match for Carrey. They seem so relaxed and fun together, it’s easy to overlook the wide (18-year) age gap between them. As befits someone called Zooey, she doesn’t stress the character’s eccentricity, but plays through it, making her quirks seem natural and free.
The movie goes the extra mile on the supporting cast too, with good work from Rhys Darby (Flight Of The Conchords) as Carl’s nerdy boss Norm and Bradley Cooper as his best friend. There’s even a bonus Luis Guzman scene thrown in.
For director Peyton Reed this is a safer, more formulaic rom-com than his previous Down with Love and The Break Up, but it’s also likely to be more successful. It’s hard to resist all that positivity on screen, even if you do wish they had pushed things a little harder here and there. It would be going too far to describe Yes Man as an offer you can’t refuse, but this is such a genial crowd-pleaser, it’s a definite maybe.
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