Carl Allen (Jim Carrey), a divorcee in a dull job, has turned into a miserable loner who ignores all invitations, never returns calls and shuns emotional contact of any kind. When Carl deliberately misses his engagement party, best pal Peter (Bradley Cooper) declares it to be the final straw and warns him that if he doesn’t change his attitude, he will end up sad and alone. Dragged along to a life-coaching seminar, Carl is faced with an opportunity to avoid this depressing fate. The seminar operates on a simple premise: every time you are asked a question, you must answer “yes”, thereby opening yourself up to a world of new possibilities. Under duress, Carl agrees to participate and soon finds himself not only enjoying life, but experiencing joy and excitement in ways he never thought possible. But Carl is about to find out that saying yes to everything can result in unanticipated consequences...

Having been brought up in London, I was initially appalled by the concept of agreeing to everything. My first word was “no” (quickly followed by “rain”) and, like my fellow Londoners, I believe it is my inalienable right to refuse first and think later. Carl, however, is a resident of Los Angeles, where people have smiles quite literally surgically attached to their faces. His negative attitude, therefore, is seen as nothing short of a criminal offence. Yes Man is based on the memoir of the same name by British comedian Danny Wallace and it’s certainly fun to think that a lot of the madness which ensues is based (however loosely) on real events; even more so when you take into consideration the fact that they happened to a Brit. An uncharacteristically cheerful Brit, admittedly, but a Brit nonetheless.

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In the book, it’s a man on the bus who tells Wallace to “Say yes more”, rather than Carl’s instructor, the god-like seminar leader Terrence Bundley (a rather fabulous turn by Terence Stamp). However, this necessarily contrived plot point is not entirely ridiculous. The self-improvement seminar is a popular event across the pond and has a growing fan-base in the UK too, with some more controversial than others. “Yes Is The New No” is arguably one of the tamer options and essentially very plausible. The absurd enthusiasm of its patrons is wonderfully at odds with Carl’s initial awkwardness and the vision they share provides the ideal springboard for what turns out to be a pleasantly funny film.

Because yes: it is funny. Agreeing to all propositions is a lot tougher than one might first expect, and as well as the inevitable love interest and job promotion (I said it was funny, not unpredictable), Carl finds himself in some pretty hairy situations. Surprisingly, though, they aren’t outrageously unrealistic. Once you have accepted that he really is saying “yes” to everything, it’s unexpectedly easy to believe the outcome of such a foolhardy mission. With a few exceptions, there is usually a relatively realistic build-up to each debacle and they are mostly executed with humour and flair.

Carrey has managed to find a middle ground for his divisive brand of comedy, using his natural humour to its fullest extent but steering clear of excessive slapstick. A spell of straight roles seems to have calmed him down a bit, and his new demeanour is perfect for this film. Physically, he seems quite a bit older, although whether this is a side-effect of maturity or the way some sadist on the styling team forced him to cut his hair, it’s hard to say. Perhaps age has tamed him... or maybe he is simply lucky enough to have a relatively grown-up script and a firmer director, in the shape of Peyton Reed, to make the most of his undeniable talents. What shocked me the most was that during a lovely scene with new girlfriend Renee (Zooey Deschanel) in an open-air theatre, I actually found myself rather attracted to him, despite the vile haircut. It’s got to be said that this new-found maturity suits Carrey, making it almost believable that the quirkily gorgeous Zooey would fancy him, too.

Reed has done a surprisingly good job of making a daft premise into a good-humoured, enjoyable film, with some genuine laugh-out-loud moments. The supporting cast are excellent, with Danny Masterson (bad dress sense, great lines) providing an ideal foil for Cooper (bit dull, lovely eyes). There is also a hilarious turn by Rhys “Flight Of The Conchords” Darby as Carl’s bonkers Kiwi boss. It’s a pleasant surprise to see Carrey successfully playing the straight man against Darby’s loveably irritating character and it’s a testament to Reed’s direction that this reversal of roles is pulled off so effectively.

Yes Man is thought-provoking without being sentimental and funny without being ridiculous. Plus, thanks to the Eels, it boasts a superb soundtrack. No movie by Reed (whose previous works include the infamous Bring It On) is likely to ensnare an Oscar but it would be a miserable old cynic who couldn’t crack a smile at this. And if that’s an affliction that you’re suffering from, there’s a seminar I could recommend.

Reviewed on: 13 Dec 2008
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Jim Carrey agrees to say 'Yes' to everything for 12 months.
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Stephen McMorland ****

Director: Peyton Reed

Writer: Nicholas Stoller, Jarrad Paul, Andrew Mogel, based on the book by Danny Wallace

Starring: Jim Carrey, Zooey Deschanel, Bradley Cooper, John Michael Higgins, Rhys Darby, Sean O’Bryan, Danny Masterson, Fionnula Flanagan, Terence Stamp, Sasha Alexander, Molly Sims

Year: 2008

Runtime: 104 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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