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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Yes Man

My therapist says I have an issue saying ‘no’ to people. I’m a doormat, she says. I’m always letting others take advantage of me and I end up stuck doing lots of favors for people I can’t afford to according to her because I can’t say ‘no’ when asked, no matter how big the inconvenience.

“Am I right?” she asked.

I could swear my lips formed the word ‘no’ but they betrayed me when the dreaded “yes” squeaked out instead, and thus launched a twelve years (and counting) relationship that has paid for my psychologist’s home renovations and her car, if not for her entire mortgage outright (I do see her twice a week), sometimes three, when she suggests it.

I don’t think always saying ‘yes’ has been a bad thing. It made me very popular in high school and very rich in my 20s and early 30s. It only turned sour when guys started asking me to marry them and I collected husbands the way some women collect commemorative plates. Actually, they had a lot in common with the plates, now that I think about it. They were usually cheap and broke when I grew tired of them.

Fortunately for Carl Allen, the character Jim Carrey (Horton Hears a Who!) plays in
Yes Man, he doesn’t have to worry about being plagued by a ‘Yes Woman’ like me. The last thing he seems interested in doing is getting out of his sour frame of mind to meet any woman to find out if she might even say ‘maybe.’ His best friends Peter (Bradley Cooper; The Midnight Meat Train) and Rooney (Danny Masterson; Capers) try their best to coerce him out to their favorite watering hole, but the one time he actually does agree, he is haunted by the reason for his long-lasting foul mood ~ the presence of his ex-wife Stephanie (Molly Sims; tv’s “Las Vegas”), the woman who dumped him three years earlier and broke his heart.

I can see why Carl might want to become agoraphobic considering his friends and the fact that they would knowingly drag him down to a place where his ex hangs out. Worse yet, he has a dustbowl boring job as a loan officer at a yawn-inducing branch office of some non-entity bank, and his boss, Norman (Rhys Darby; tv’s "The Flight of the Conchords") is a complete loon.

With such a crappy existence, something has to change, or this is going to be a short movie about suicide, if not for Carl then for a lot of us in the audience, and so fate
intervenes in the form of Carl’s pal Nick (John Michael Higgins; tv’s “Kath & Kim”), who collides with Carl at an opportune moment
and drags him off to a seminar promoting the ‘Yes Principle: Saying Yes to Yes!’, a hokey New Age philosophy taught by a self-help guru named Terrence Bundley (Terrence Stamp; Get Smart). Whether by peer pressure, hypnosis, or his own need to obey a promise made, Carl agrees to abide by the covenant he makes with Terrence which requires he say ‘yes’ to every opportunity or request that comes his way for fear the not doing so will bring him karmic bad luck in retribution.

Here’s where the comedy really begins. Sure, there are (a few) laughs before this point, but the gist of the movie lies in Carrey/Carl’s inability to say ‘no’ and how this complicates his life in so many ways. Of course it also provides the catalyst for him to meet the new love of his life, Allison (Zooey Deschanel; The Happening), who is really the stand out in this film, shining more than she has in previous performances. She brings that same ‘something-something’ magic that Debra Winger captured during her An Officer and a Gentleman days. She’s beautiful, independent, clever and yet cheerfully approachable all at once. Deschanel breathes life into what a lesser actress would make a two dimensional sex object and little else.

Yes Man is ultimately a romantic comedy, the story between Carrey and Deschanel is what has to sell the movie. They do make a fun and casually comfortable couple; though together it is painfully obvious that Carrey is no longer the young whippersnapper he was during the Ace Ventura: Pet Detective phase of his career. Both he and Deschanel share the same birthday (January 17th), but the 18 year age gap shows on Carrey’s face. When I say they look “casually comfortable” that is a euphemism for "he looks wrinkled," Children.

Keep an eye out for veteran actress Fionnula Flanagan (tv’s “Brotherhood") as Carl’s elderly neighbor Tillie. She’s a sly one, this old bird, and she’s a wicked scene stealer. Once she realizes that Carl is just a guy who can’t say ‘no’ she has some very specific requests that will explain the movie’s being rated PG-13 for crude sexual humor, language and brief nudity. It’s like driving by a train wreck. You don’t want to see it, yet you can’t help but look at what happens next. Oh my! Fortunately, you don’t actually see the ‘what happens next,’ but the thought will linger on in your mind for hours nonetheless.

I can’t help but wonder if there are people out there who are going to come see Yes Man expecting to see Jim Carrey in a leather superhero costume a la the X Men. Well, Carl doesn’t wear a costume, but he does learn to fly once he says ‘yes’. Now that’s pretty super, if you ask me. Of course, he doesn’t have any hot friends named Storm or Cyclops, but he does know a band called Munchausen By Proxy and that’s got to count for something.

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