Yes Man defies analysis. It is not particularly bad, nor any good either. It exists as perfect HBO fodder, a consumer product designed to occupy in a cloying and formulaic manner one hour and 44 minutes of the viewer’s short life.
So far, okay. After giving a beggar a ride and all of his money, Carl runs out of gas, and has to walk a long way to a gas station, but then kooky Allison (Zooey Deschanel) rides up on a scooter, and she volunteers to give him a ride back to his car. On the way, he wears her helmet embellished with large cartoon eyes. She takes their photograph together, and then she gives him a kiss for no obvious reason before scooting away. The film posits that if he hadn’t said yes to the bum, he would not have found the beginnings of romance. Soon Carl finds himself agreeing to lessons in flying, guitar, and the Korean language, and later we get the pleasure of seeing how all of those skills will pay off.
I kept staring at Carrey’s face. He’s made his career out of making funny faces, and I especially liked his work in The Truman Show, but something went strange with his 2007 vehicle The Number 23, an unfunny mystery/thriller about a man who becomes obsessed with a number. The Number 23 earned an 8% on Rotten Tomatoes. All of a sudden, Carrey went from a possible leading man to a has-been who looked deranged. I haven’t seen the film, but everything about Yes Man seems in reaction to The Number 23. By making a bland, life-affirming romantic comedy, Carrey seeks to erase the memory of that career misstep, but there’s still something haunted about him, he’s become a joke-meister no longer quite content with his gags, and no longer secure with his paycheck. Therefore, the only way to see any value in Yes Man is within the framework of Carrey’s media redemption. He realizes that he was wrong, so now we get the opposite--bogus uplift—Carrey saving a man from jumping off a ledge by singing a folk song to him with guitar accompaniment—“Step back from your ledge,” etc. All of his attempts to “squeeze every drop of juice” out of the EXPERIENCE of LIFE struck me as compounding a more sophisticated form of despair on top of the misery of his earlier negative self. This film suggests that if you become a pawn of others, then life will pull you from your WASPish shell of safe denial and set you free!
Meanwhile, Deschanel continues to get sadly typecast as quirky. She played the lead in M. Night Shyamalan’s quirky apocalyptic The Happening. Here, she fronts a quirky band called “Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome” when she’s not quirkily leading jogging and photography groups around the Griffith Park Observatory (of Rebel Without a Cause) in the morning. To fit the romantic comedy structure, Carl and Allison have to rethink things later, so she gets to act a little, but mostly her characterization remains as bland and blank a version of therapeutic LA goofiness as the rest of the film.
Late in the movie, there are more hints of desperation in the way things keep happening (an FBI bust, a car crash) to gloss the fact that due to its openness to all possibilities, all tension has vanished from the screenplay. In a last attempt to generate excitement, the screenwriters lift a page from Jason Statham’s Crank of all things by having Carrey ride a motorcycle wildly across LA while wearing a hospital gown. Just as Steve Carell does towards the end of Get Smart, Carrey shows his rear (funny!), and that’s when I realized what the ironic poster of Yes Man reminds me of—the cheesy photo of Carell in the poster of The 40 Year Old Virgin. Perhaps, Jim Carrey wants the more wholesome and less manic stardom of Steve Carell. After the disastrous reception of The Number 23, any kind of stardom will do.