Number one at the box office this weekend was Jim Carrey in Yes Man. One person who did not contribute twelve bucks to that tally, however, was yours truly. If I had to guess, I would suppose that the reason why is that I absolutely can’t stand the premise.
That premise is, as far as I can tell, the following:
An uptight guy decides he’s going to say “yes” to everything, and his life changes for the better.
Very simple; very high concept. Nauseatingly so, in fact. Resembling nothing like the reality that anyone, ever, has experienced, and suggesting on its own very few of the dynamic possibilities that would promise a compelling vision of ‘movie’ reality. Still, it’s possible that a comedian willing enough to go for broke could push this limp-dick premise into interesting, unsafe, ridiculous places.
Enter Jim Carrey.
A quick preface: I like Jim Carrey in movies, or at least, I used to. Certainly in a fiscal sense, Jim Carrey was untouchable from around 1993 to 1998. In my opinion, he was just as invaluable as a comedic force during that time. He brought an anarchy to movies that was certainly needed then, and probably is still needed now. If you happen to not like Carrey, I can dig it, only I would reply to you that huge movie stars become huge movie stars for some reason; when a persona connects with that many people, it demands intelligent consideration from people who take movies seriously. In other words, you don’t have to agree that he’s funny, but it’s worth considering why the majority feels otherwise.
Also, it is my very strong belief that you can never entirely dismiss any actor. A good enough movie, a good enough script and director, can effectively deploy just about anyone who has the ability to recall dialogue. Exhibit A: No matter how many financial or creative bombs he made before or since, no one can take that great performance in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind away from Jim Carrey; the same way no one can take that great performance in Adaptation away from Nic Cage.
Now, I just wish that someone would have taken Yes Man away from Carrey before it happened. A lot of talented and no doubt decent people will get solid paychecks off of this puppy, and maybe there’s even a few solid laughs to be found in it, but I just can’t throw my support behind a premise so obnoxiously vanilla. In fact, I am probably obligated to take a swipe at it, since Yes Man took that number-one slot from my man Will Smith, who, love him or hate him, is never content to bunt. It’s sad to see the once-daring Carrey holding back from swinging for the parking lot, outside the ballpark and across the street, the way he used to.
Here’s the thing: Except for the presence of the very modern Zooey Deschanel, and the further progression of whatever is happening to Jim Carrey’s face, there is very little to suggest that this movie was made in 2008 and not 1998. It’s truly Liar Liar all over again. That movie, honestly, had a similarly limp premise, but it was enlivened by Carrey’s go-for-broke presence. He’s since then been steadily dialing it down, however. Without that maniacal energy, Yes Man is bound to be a rerun. Without that maniacal energy, you’re left with a guy who says “yes” to every question as if it will have any effect on his life at all. That might be okay if it were a kid’s movie, but this one is nominally intended for adults. And that’s unacceptably lame.
Listen up, adults: Things are rough all over, to say the least. Mass murder goes unprevented overseas, diseases go uncured the world over, and our own country is currently at war, lest we forget. THIS is the world we live in. Now, of course we need movies that provide an escape, but there’s a significant difference between necessary crowd-pleasing and unnecessary coloring-by-numbers. We should expect more, and we should put more pressure on ourselves to deliver. I’m not saying that every story has to be dark, but I am absolutely saying this right here: Comedy ought to have teeth. Memorable comedy always does, as a rule. Every great movie comedy you, the reader, have ever loved, has gone out on a limb and jumped up and down on it to test how far it can bend before it snaps.
Because otherwise, you’re left with a story about a guy who is invited to a Harry Potter costume party, and says “yes.” Really? And a girl who looks like Zooey Deschanel will go with you, also? I have to buy into that for two hours, do I?
I saw that scene in the trailer, and hell, maybe I’m wrong, but I can’t see how any movie that treats attending a Harry Potter costume party as any kind of revelation could ever be worth seeing.
As we all know, it takes a lot more than saying “yes” a lot, for a guy in his late forties, who due to all those comedic jaw contortions in his youth is now very quickly beginning to resemble Stephen King, to get a girl in her twenties who’s got anything interesting going on, to go to a Harry Potter party with him. And you know what? If you’re in your forties, whatever you look like you probably need to say “no” to the Harry Potter party. If you’re in your thirties or your twenties, you probably need to say “no” to the Harry Potter party also. Geez I hope that’s not the lesson we are supposed to learn in Yes Man. I’d appreciate Jim Carrey a whole lot more right now if he would tell people to skip Yes Man and just rent After Hours instead. (Now there’s an interesting movie about the complications that come from being too agreeable.) Oh, and if he could get all those big blue “King Of The World” ads out of my face also, that’d be great.
There, now that I’ve taken us down, let me bring things back up:
I don’t like to subtract without trying to add, so let me try to hypothetically make this Yes Man movie more interesting. You can have this one for free:
Keep that original premise. You know what? We can use it. The starting point is still this dull, boring guy who starts saying “yes” to everything. But splice that into another genre. Let’s say film noir. Now this will probably suck, because I’ve never tried to think up a film noir before, and certainly not within the fifteen minutes I take to write these online entries, but still I swear, I would rather watch the following than one more watered-down comedy.
THE YES MAN.
Wednesday. Hump Day. Flourescent lights and industrial hum. This harmless, whimsical little feller in accounting up and decides that from now on, he’s going to say “yes” to everything that comes his way. No more nay-saying for him! He’s going to start his new life by taking off work early, see where the day takes him. Then he ventures outside his office building, and is immediately approached by a desperate-looking man who thrusts a pistol into his hands. There’s blood on the handle. “Get rid of this for me?” the stranger half-demands. Our hero stammers a one-word reply:
So the stranger runs off and the Yes Man is stuck with a bloody gun. There’s hair on the handle too – it was used to hurt somebody, and that hurt was not done as smoothly and as simply as by pulling the trigger. Before he has time to think, the Yes Man sees three gargantuan enforcers pushing their way towards him down the city street. Fight-or-fight takes over, and he flies.
Turns out the stranger was involved with the girlfriend of a low-level criminal. They got in a fight and the girl got the worse of it. Now the criminal and his boys are looking for the assailant, and having come this close to catching up to him, they’ll settle for dismantling the man they think is his accomplice. The Yes Man finds this out through the course of a Hitchcock-style “Wrong Man” scenario, where the mugs alternately catch up to Yes Man, give him bits and pieces of the story, and are amazingly eluded by him. Every time they catch him or are about to, he somehow manages to escape. That chase set-up lasts about halfway through the movie.
Then the Yes Man takes a bullet in the head.
He’s just not a professional. In fact, he’s kind of a pussy. He’s just a guy who said “no” to everything in his life before today; what does he really know about keeping his head above water in a sea of sharks? He’s over his head. He IS, nothing. He WAS. It might be sad or it might not be, but the Yes Man is dead. He’s really dead.
A la Psycho, we now need a new protagonist.
The stranger, well on his way out of town, gets word that the guy he gave the gun to has been pegged for his accomplice and thereby executed. He starts to experience what folklore sometimes refers to as “guilt”. He didn’t mean to hurt the girl that bad, he cared about her. And he didn’t mean to bring that sad bastard into it, he just wanted to get away from Moose and Knuckles.
He’s got to go back, just got to. Not to own up to his crimes – that’d be crazy. Suicide won’t bring the girl or the geek back. And it’s not exactly vengeance either. Really, the truth is that if he wipes out his pursuers, he won’t have to run the rest of his life. Then maybe he can find something, anything, worth doing with it. Maybe if he can do this thing, he can do a little something good for somebody. Even if it’s still, only and just, for himself.