Familiarity Brings Contempt
Standing at the crossroads of Jim Carrey’s career, Yes Man attempts to reconcile the actor’s slapstick comedies with more serious fare—and fails miserably at both. The film’s premise borrows heavily from Carrey’s own Liar Liar as he portrays protagonist Carl Allen, a divorced loan officer whose job and personal life consist of declining new opportunities. After a chance encounter with a former coworker, Carl finds himself at a self-help seminar-turned-Heaven’s Gate recruitment facility that is designed to purge the word ‘no’ from his vocabulary. Self-help guru Terrence Buckley (actor Terence Stamp), who appears to be one purple shroud and a pair of black Nikes shy of catching the spaceship behind Hale-Bopp, indoctrinates Carl into his program before loosing him into an unsuspecting public. Believing he entered a covenant with Buckley in which vague threats of cosmic retaliation awaits anytime he turns down an offer, Carl sets up a series of unfortunate events designed to reuse the same one-note gag ad nauseum. Unlike the aforementioned Liar Liar, which utilized the magical birthday wish of a young child to explain its far-fetched premise, Yes Man relies on the gullibility of the main character to carry the weight of this moronic endeavor.
Still wallowing in ennui following his divorce, one of Carl’s endeavors introduces him to Allison (Zooey Deschanel), a Manic Pixie Dream Girl containing more idiosyncrasies than an entire record by The Shins. Rides a Vespa? Check. Lead singer of pithily named art-rock group? Check. Purveyor of quirky photography? Check. In fact, Yes Man imports every cliché from Shoegazer cinema released in the wake of Lost in Translation and dilutes it for mass consumption right down to the dramatic scene in an airport where the main character has to choose between the love of his life and the life he knows—leading me to believe that more angular haircuts have had their hearts broken in airports than in any other location. Even the film’s soundtrack is supplied by the college rock outfit Eels. Needless to say, Carl falls head over heels for her.
Much like the conflict experienced by the filmmaker, the only conflict throughout the film occurs when Carl attempts to accomplish too much at once only to, inevitably, accomplish nothing at all. Juxtaposing syrupy scenes of hand-holding inside the Hollywood Bowl with Jim Carrey receiving a gummer (consult Urban Dictionary) from an amorous elderly neighbor, the film wobbles its way to a conclusion for a problem that is not addressed until an hour into the film. When Allison decides that she wants to move in, Carl is obligated to agree, however when she realizes that he agreed because of the covenant to Buckley, she determines that the relationship is coerced. In whatever way Carl resolves to prove his feels are genuine, you can be sure that it will involve his asscheeks hanging out the back of a hospital gown as he rides a motorcycle through traffic. That is the extend of character development in this film.
It is telling that in a film so thoroughly derivative of movies from the past decade, most notably early Jim Carrey work crossed with his forlorn Eternal Sunshine performance, that director Peyton Reed would pepper his film with shots of recent movies and Harry Potter product placement. Apparently hipster culture no longer waits for pop culture to become ironic before passing it off as pastiche. By cannibalizing his own career, perhaps no one is more aware of this than Jim Carrey himself.