Review: Yes Man

Jim Carrey goes back to the well with a Bruce Almighty, Liar Liar-esque performance in Yes Man, a comedy about saying yes to life — or at least, saying yes because Terrence Stamp says so.
By  · Published on December 19th, 2008

Yes Man (2008)
Directed by Peyton Reed
Written by Nicholas Stoller, Jarrad Paul, Andrew Mogal and Danny Wallace (book)
Starring Jim Carrey, Zooey Deschanel, Terrence Stamp and Bradley Cooper

I was told once by an older, more experienced and wiser film critic that it is important for any reviewer to abstain from letting their personal tastes, especially for a particular actor or actress, get in the way of their ability to see a film objectively. Just because someone’s natural state of being or recurring character makes you laugh, that doesn’t always make for a great movie. There are other things that go into it — a film’s ability to engage its audience, develop its characters and provoke some sort of response, to name a few. And by that logic Jim Carrey’s latest movie Yes Man is just another plot-less, purposeless comedy that entrances its audience with Jim Carrey’s antics long enough to take their $10 and run. But if we peel back what few layers exist we might just find a few things to like, and maybe even something worth laughing at.

We begin with Jim Carrey, who stars a Carl Allen, a man so uptight and emotionally closed that he says “no” to everything that life brings his way. A little extreme, I know, but once you meet this guy you’ll understand — he’s a real mess. He avoids his best friends, played by Bradley Cooper (Wedding Crashers) and Danny Masterson (That 70s Show), and he shits all over his fun-loving boss, played by Rhys Darby (Flight of the Conchords). Not to mention that ex-wife he has due to his inability to let go and actually live life. You see where this is going from here, right? Of course, John Michael Higgins (A Mighty Wind) shows up as an old friend, a man who lives life to the fullest, and drags Carl off to a “Just Say Yes” seminar. There he meets an over-the-top vocally booming self help guru played by the incomparable Terrence Stamp. Together he and Carl form a covenant and from there on out, Carl must say “yes” to everything that comes his way.

Of course, that is where the fun begins. It is also where Jim Carrey’s performance really takes off. It is a performance that reminds us that Jim Carrey’s still got it — he can still be ridiculous and stupid and laugh out loud funny without being unbearable. He plays a role such as this one with a level of energy that is rarely matched in Hollywood, something for which he should be commended simply on the basis that he’s been doing it so long. But to some people this is annoying — and this film is no exception. New rule: if Jim Carrey annoys you, why are you considering seeing this movie anyway? For those on the fence, you can take comfort in knowing that Carrey’s performance here is relatively subdued compared to films such as The Cable Guy or Ace Ventura. Those where caricatures, while this feels more akin to Liar Liar or Bruce Almighty.

Aside from Carrey, there are some really fun characters in Yes Man. I already mentioned Terrence Stamp as the outrageous motivational “Yes” doctor. As he does any time he shows up on screen, Stamp makes an impression. Also effective is Rhys Darby, otherwise known as Murray from Flight of the Conchords. His performance is painfully reminiscent of his character on Conchords, which was a real letdown to me, but I assure you that anyone who is experiencing his awkward nature for the first time should get a laugh out of it. And last but certainly not least is Zooey Deschanel, ever alluring and ever charming. She plays Allison, the girl who Carl finds thanks to his new affliction with the word “yes.” She is a breath of fresh air to an otherwise dull story and likely the film’s saving grace.

I supposed I was ultimately taken aback by Yes Man’s charm and its ability to take me out of my objectivity zone. Sure, I recognize that this movie isn’t a great film, but as it turns out I did catch myself laughing quite a bit. Perhaps it is the fact that director Peyton Reed (The Break-Up) is able to deliver characters that are less annoying and more charming. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that its simplicity of story works in its favor. And perhaps even further, Jim Carrey still hasn’t lost… whatever he had. Perhaps Carrey remembered that he is most successful when he’s making popcorn comedies, movies that require very little depth of engagement on the part of the audience. You are simply required to sit back and giggle at it. And giggle at it you shall, as Yes Man does deliver some laughs at the hands of some well-placed cameos, and yes, even that annoying guy with the elastic facial expressions.

Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)