Saturday, December 27, 2008

Affirmative Affirmative

And away we go with one of the biggest holiday releases of the year! Topping the box office list this past week was ...

Yes Man (d. Peyton Reed)

In 1997, Jim Carrey starred in a film called Liar, Liar wherein he played a lawyer who was forced to always tell the truth. In this year's Yes Man, Jim Carrey plays a loan officer who chooses to always say "yes" to every request. In 2019, I fully expect to see a film starring Jim Carrey as a computer technician with a vibrant social life.

Or a movie reviewer who is never sarcastic.

But until one of those eventualities, we have Carrey as Carl Allen, the aforementioned loan officer whose life has gradually closed up into a joyless little box because he refuses to accept any of the opportunities that come his way. His wife has left him, his job is a soul-crushing grind, and he views everyone around him with a thinly veiled mix of contempt and revulsion. Let anyone try to penetrate his shell of self-pity and they are invariably halted by his wall of negativity.

Until one day he happens to literally bump into an old friend (John Michael Higgins -- one of the great comedy secret weapons in movies today) who has embraced the positive philosophy of one Terrence Bundley (Terence Stamp). Bundley insists that his followers say "yes" to everything that presents itself to them. Carl is, of course, skeptical but allows himself to be bullied into attending one of Bundley's oddly fascistic seminars and comes out with a tentative commitment to try the strategy.

In the course of saying "yes" to more and more increasingly unpleasant situations, Carl eventually stumbles across the free-spirited Allison (Zooey Deschanel) and suddenly the whole plan begins to make sense; so much sense that he begins applying his new plan to everything, including giving the okay to all the loan applications that pass his desk. Troubled financial institutions take note!

As a spur for a knockabout Jim Carrey comedy, this premise promises a lot more than it delivers. Essentially it leads to a series of disjointed set pieces that individually are diverting enough, but never connect with one another. As a result, the film never builds much comic momentum.

But where the comedy struggles, the romance at the heart of the movie -- unlikely though it might be -- finds a fairly firm footing. Carrey and Deschanel make a charming pair and generate some genuine sweet chemistry. Allison might be the kind of woman who only exists in the fevered imaginings of a Hollywood scriptwriter (a hyper-cute rock chick on a motor scooter who makes out with Carrey immediately after meeting him), but Deschanel inhabits her fetchingly.

Yes Man also makes use of some fine supporting players including Higgins, Stamp and the wonderful Rhys Darby, so uproarious as Murray, the manager of Flight of the Conchords. Here he's Carl's supervisor Norman, a man who desperately wants to be Carl's best friend. Norman also throws costume parties where he dresses up as Ron Weasley and recites from memory lengthy swatches of dialogue from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. It is a sign of Carl's commitment to his new philosophy when he begins accepting invitations to Norman's shindigs.

The core concept at the heart of Yes Man is a sound one: be open to what life has to offer. But the core concepts of most Hallmark cards are sound, too, and that doesn't make them deathless poetry. In the end, the comedy is spotty and even the engaging romance falls back on a dumb romance movie third-act-crisis cliche.

Maybe in eleven years, Jim Carrey can play a screenwriter who never forces a phony-baloney complication on his fictional couples. Talk about irony.

2 stars.

Trivia footnote: Zooey Deschanel plays a singer in the rock band Munchausen By Proxy in this film. She is a singer in real life as well and appeared on my favorite album of 2008 (see that list somewhere back a few posts). Zooey sings back up on Jenny Lewis's Acid Tongue. Does a lovely job, too.

No comments:

John and Dave talks Oscar nomination predictions