Yes Man takes a pretty ridiculous premise and just runs with it. The trick here is that they run just quickly enough with it, with arms flailing and Jim Carrey’s face contorting, that it’s almost difficult to notice the deep holes in the concept. The holes somewhat reveal themselves in the end as they try to dredge up some manufactured Hollywood sentiment, but it still ends up being a mostly positive experience.
After a messy and painful divorce, Carl has become unwilling to commit to anything, and has mostly withdrawn from people. He avoids hanging out with friends and shows no initiative at work. One day, an old friend invites him to a self-help seminar, where he is challenged to say “yes” to every opportunity. At first Carl is skeptical, but after an escapade with a rather demanding homeless person leads to a surprisingly good night, Carl dives wholeheartedly into it. Thanks to his new philosophy, Carl gets a promotion and starts seeing a pretty wonderful girl, though he quickly learns that saying “yes” to everything does have some unsavory consequences.
For the most part, Yes Man is okay. It feels a bit like Liar, Liar Redux, though that passes fairly quickly. Most of the runtime is devoted to Carl doing zany and fun things because other people asked him to, and these scenes are filled with enough positive energy to just make it through. This energy starts sagging, however, the moment that Carl begins to face the consequences of his actions. The movie is seemingly unable to find ways to create and resolve conflicts for the main character, leaving him to either gloss over some truly terrible problems, or fall into old movie clichés. The movie brings up a few interesting issues about corporate culture, but mostly drops it in favor of a predictable romantic subplot that ends in your typical romantic subplot way. Matched up against the manic energy of the first two acts, the resolution of this subplot mostly falls flat, and actually sabotages the entire movie a bit.
It’s still pretty fun for most of its runtime, however. Director Peyton Reed keeps things pretty fresh, even when the film trudges through conventional territory. Reed is a comedy veteran, and his experience shines through well enough. In the end, he leaves it mostly to his cast, which may have been a good choice. Jim Carrey puts on his mass-market face and steps up the wackiness. Personally, I prefer Carrey when he tones it down, but his energy carries this picture. One has to admire the commitment that he puts into the role, and there are still a few moments here where Carrey gets to flex his acting muscles. Zooey Deschanel is quite lovely, and here she pulls off playing straight man to Carrey manic antics while still exuding massive amounts of quirk herself. Rhys Darby ends up playing practically the same character he plays on Flight of the Conchords, though that’s not such a bad thing. Terence Stamp shows up and he’s hilarious.
Yes Man could probably be a lot better, but it does sort of win you over. While the third act is a bit of a mess, the rest of the movie is just positive and fun enough to work. There are a couple of big laughs in there, and the cast sells it all pretty well. All in all, it’s not exactly revelatory cinema, and the movie just falls short of accomplishing even its own meager goals, but it’s still a pretty good time.