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Just Say Yes

Laughing with Jim Carrey

Dec. 22, 2008
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Once there was a loan officer who said no to every application for money. If the story had been written anytime from six years ago through this September, a period when no one in banking denied anyone any sum, it could only have been meant as a fairy tale.

Although , the new Jim Carrey comedy, is a kind of fable, the moral of the story has less to do with economics than human responsibility. When we first meet the hapless loan officer Carl Allen (Carrey), he's fallen into the low-gear inertia of a dead-end job in a cul-de-sac life. After his wife left him, Carl's fallback for everything became no-no, can't go out tonight; no, I'm not answering my cell phone; no, I'm not reading my e-mail; no, your business plan is without merit; no, no, no.

Then Carl has a life-changing encounter, albeit change, despite its current status as a synonym for good, is usually a mixed blessing. An old friend coaxes him to a self-help seminar led by New Age motivation guru Terrence Bundley (a reptilian Terence Stamp). Bundley preaches a gospel of affirmation to an enthusiastic audience. "I want you to invite yes into your lives!" he demands. "When you say yes to things, you embrace the possible… Every time an opportunity presents itself, no matter what it is, you will say yes!"

Like most ideas that are wrong, Bundley's power of yes contains its measure of truth. Positive thinking can move mountains, but when pursued mindlessly it can lead to a terrible fall. At an emotional nadir, Carl embraces Bundley's nostrum with a literal-minded, fundamentalist fervor. Saying yes to the bum who asks for a ride and to borrow his phone, Carl is left with a drained gas tank and cell battery. He is stranded miles from anywhere. But Carl's long hike to a gas station leads to another life-changing encounter-with a free-spirited alternative-rock singer-artist, Allison (intelligently played by Zooey Deschanel). Could she be the lift he needs, the love he thought he'd never find?

Bundley's metaphysical maxim seems to be working. Saying yes when Carl wanted to say no led by some karmic path through an unpleasant situation into a positive outcome. But of course life's not that simple, even in a Hollywood movie.

A mostly amusing comedy that crosses into tastelessness only once or twice, Yes Man has a capable script that is elevated by Carrey's rubber-faced, uncoiled performance as an everyman lurching from one emotional extreme to another. Not unlike his '90s hit Liar Liar, where he played a chronic speaker of falsehoods compelled to tell nothing but the truth, Carrey embarks on the wacky fool's errand of being constantly positive. Bundley's notion is impossible to carry out and dangerous to try. By saying yes to someone, you inevitably say no to someone else; opening one door means closing another, possibly crushing your own toes on the way. By being robotically positive, you have abdicated judgment, responsibility, honesty and free will.

Although the plotting is needlessly muddled at moments, Yes Man manages to make its point with more good humor than most contemporary comedies, even if it falls short of crackling hilarity. This time Jim Carrey has a pretty good script. Next time he needs a director as madcap as the comic himself.


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