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Yes Man (12A)

Rachel Winterbottom says yes to the film adaptation of the British novel

Written by . Published on January 6th 2009.

Yes Man (12A)

Do you want to learn salsa? Shall we try that new tofu place? Would you like to go out with me? If you’re the sort of person who cringes away from these questions, hastily reaching for the duvet cover rather than risk the inevitable disappoint you’re sure is waiting outside your comfort zone, maybe it’s time to consider a change.

Most of us will do it. You see ‘Unknown Caller’ pop up on your phone and you slide your phone back to where it lives and try to look as if you haven’t noticed that it’s still vibrating. After all, it could be any one, wanting anything; if it’s really important, they’ll leave a message. But what if you didn’t rely on your answer phone to screen your calls for you, what if you lived your life entirely without a filter?

Welcome to the choice that Danny Wallace, British journalist and author, made and wrote about for his 2005 book, Yes Man, in a valiant effort to both make us laugh and earn some more money at the same time.

Yes Man, the film, uses the basic concept introduced in the book and runs with it, wildly. Everyman Danny Wallace gets translated into Carl Allen on screen. Jim Carrey plays the loan clerk who can’t stop saying no since divorcing his wife of six months and whose social life suddenly consists of standing in line at his local Blockbuster store. A chance meeting with a moronic old acquaintance (the kind that pops up in your life just to remind you how much you aren’t living yours) leads to him attending a Yes Man conference run by the terribly evil-looking Terrance, played by Terence Stamp.

This Holy Minister of Yes conference leader sprints towards Allen like a paisley-wearing gazelle and threatens the pessimist into saying yes to every ‘favour, request, suggestion and invitation’, ever. He then imposes the covenant, which Allen believes will cause him serious harm if he breaks it. Alright, so Danny Wallace didn’t fall down a set of concrete stairs to then get mauled by a dog, but this is film world, and changing your life based on some advice from a man on a late night bus isn’t going to cut it.

Once the ‘say yes more’ part is dealt with, the film deviates at whim. It uses concepts bigger than those in the book - which merely dabbled in the faintly ridiculous - and instead glorifies in taking things a step too far. Much like Carrey’s trembling rubber face ever threatens to twang back into an Ace Ventura gurn, the tendency towards the absurd is inevitable. Thankfully though, Yes Man does refrain from being ‘too Hollywood’, and with the focus on Allen’s personal life it at least attempts to reign itself in.

The yes-only answers lead to a whole wealth of experiences, and a montage. From bar fights to only having one answer to give when you’re elderly neighbour kindly offers you sexual relief. Still, best not break the covenant. If you were going to split hairs you’d point out that the writers do tread the line with being open to suggestion and blind obedience and that there are more than a few hints of Liar Liar here. But luckily, Carrey seems to have matured past being able to maintain that level of idiotic exuberance.

This is a sweet film that, when it's lead is not having a suicidal sing-along or being accused of terrorism, shines by focusing on the smaller things in life. Zooey Deschanel plays kooky love interest Allison, and for once her wide-eyed, innocent stare doesn’t appear gormless (see the awful The Happening for details). She genuinely comes into her own as the appealingly beautiful result of Allen’s yes's and the antipathy to his former life.

There is also the brilliant and under-rated Rhys Darby (Flight of the Concords), who plays Allen’s geeky, Harry Potter-loving boss, Norman. His tentative social awkwardness is both endearing and wonderfully funny, with his ease and style often putting Carey’s tired antics to shame.

Director Peyton Reed’s Yes Man does get trite in places – did Allen really need to have a use for all of the extra activities he took on-board when he opened up his life by saying yes? Who knew that learning Korean would be so useful when it comes to planning a bridal shower? Still, it’s easy to forgive a film that celebrates the unexpected, and the moments in life that only happen when you truly let yourself go.

This Americanisation loses some of the British awkwardness that made the book so funny but the message is still invigorating. Say yes more. Go to an airport and get on the next plane out of there just to see where it takes you, even if it’s Alaska – although the real life version of this is getting on any bus from Piccadilly Gardens and ending up in Fallowfield.

It’s not exactly Lau Tzu but it does have the rather lovely advantage of being simple. Say yes more. Go on, try it. What are you so afraid of? You could end up with Zooey Deschanel, or at the very least, a new way to increase the girth of your penis. Welcome the new era of yes; just don’t let your best mates in on it.


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