Carrey’s ‘Yes’ man eager to please

Film critic Nathan Rabin last year coined the phrase “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” to describe the awfully cheerful female characters that populate a swath of indie cinema; their logic-defying craziness is meant to “teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures,” Mr. Rabin wrote.

“Yes Man” features the first Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG) who gets out-manicked and out-pixied by her leading man.

Jim Carrey stars as buttoned-down bank minion Carl, a broken soul who spends evenings moping around his apartment even as his friends implore him to hit the bar scene. Carl’s life changes when he comes across Nick (John Michael Higgins), a former co-worker who has abandoned the trappings of modern life to become a “yes man.”

It seems that Terrence Bundley (Terence Stamp) has stumbled across the secret to happiness in life: If you say ‘Yes’ to every opportunity that arises, you will open your life to all sorts of goodness. The self-help, New Agey seminars run by Terrence are among the funnier scenes in the film, and they set Carl’s path toward transformation in motion.

One of the opportunities for happiness is Carl’s chance meeting of Allison (Zooey Deschanel), an MPDG par excellence. She fronts a new-wave electronica band (it plays for the same five people every weekend) and spouts (pretty funny) ad-libbed lyrics. She runs a photography/jogging course for all those interested in creating blurry still lifes. She swerves wildly into traffic on her precious little moped. Look at her go!

But she can’t outdo Carl, because Carl has to cater to her every whim. It’s oddly unfulfilling: Every time she tries to up the ante, he goes along not just willingly but with wild abandon. She suggests he drive her moped; he suggests they break into the Los Angeles Philharmonic. This is escalation on a scale unseen since the Vietnam War.

Mr. Carrey’s performance is a return to the rubber-faced roles that dominated multiplexes in the mid- to late ‘90s. There’s more than a hint of “Liar Liar” and “Ace Ventura” in this movie, and that’s not necessarily a good thing; the prowess showcased in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Man on the Moon” is something to be honed, not jettisoned.

Miss Deschanel, meanwhile, is her disarmingly funny self, although the role offers little, and she continues to do damage to the remnants of her indie cred. The supporting performances are humorous, if rarely subtle; special kudos go to Mr. Stamp’s self-help guru, who does good work with inherently stupid material.

**

TITLE: “Yes Man”

RATING: PG-13 (Crude sexual humor, language and brief nudity)

CREDITS: Directed by Peyton Reed

RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes

WEB SITE: http://yesisthenewno.warnerbros.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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