Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Say 'yes' to Carrey and Deschanel

Jim Carrey is a take him or leave him sort of performer. He has legions of fans who adore him, but maybe just as many who can’t stand him. For fans, “Yes Man” will be a pleasurable diversion, but it is unlikely to win over non-fans.

Carrey has been trying to balance his maniac comic side with more serious acting for about a decade now and has had found success as an actor with films like “The Truman Show” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” These are the rare films that win over the Carrey non-believers. But Carrey can’t stay away too long from broad comedy.

So, we have “Yes Man,” a comedy about a man so mired in self loathing that he says no to everything until a reluctant trip to a self-help seminar hands him a new philosophy to live by: say yes to every opportunity presented to him. Some have complained that this basic premise is a stale retread of “Liar, Liar,” but instead of a man forced to tell the truth, you have one forced to say yes.

The similarity is certainly undeniable, but Carrey seems most comfortable in vehicles with high concepts, whether it is a man being given the powers of God in “Bruce Almighty,” turning into a living cartoon in “The Mask,” erasing memories of a painful relationship in “Eternal Sunshine,” or being the unwitting star of a 24- hour TV show in “The Truman Show.” It is as if Carrey’s personality is so big, even when subdued, that it needs an equally big idea just to balance it.

The premise does admittedly have problems, clearly saying yes to everything could leave someone broke and homeless if the wrong series of yeses occurred, but everything comes up positive for Carrey — and in some cases that’s part of the joke.
Don’t apply logic to the film. The premise is merely a device to set up riffs on everything from bar fights to learning Korean. The film plugs along nicely and occasionally stumbles upon moments of inspiration, as when Carrey serenades a jumper (Luis Guzman) on a ledge with an unexpected, but perfect song.

“Yes Man” is essentially a romantic comedy dressed up with big a comedic device to hide that fact. The same was true of “Bruce Almighty,” but in that film Carrey’s female co-star, Jennifer Aniston, wasn’t asked to truly go toe to toe in verbal battle with Carrey.

Carrey is given a worthy romantic lead in Zooey Deschanel (“Elf”), who has a quirky, low-key sense of humor that is a perfect balance to Carrey’s more outrageous comedic touches. Their scenes together are what make “Yes Man” a success. They have an easygoing, believable rapport.

There is an 18-year age difference between the two actors, but it isn’t a distraction because they play off each other so well. Deschanel with her deadpan delivery seems older and wiser than she truly is, and when paired with Carrey’s youthful energy the age issue disappears.

Deschanel sings often in her films and released the album "She & Him" with musician M. Ward this year. In "Yes Man" she gets to sing again since her characters fronts a New Wave band whose songs are both funny and oddly catchy.
Carrey is surrounded by a very funny supporting cast that is allowed to grab some of the film’s biggest laughs. Veteran actor Terence Stamp only has a few scenes as the self-help guru who sends Carrey on his mission of yes — and he makes every one count.

As Carrey’s friends, Danny Masterson, Bradley Cooper and, especially, John Michael Higgins are all solid. Rhys Darby (“Flight of the Conchords”) is amusing as Carrey’s desperate-to-be-friends boss, who is constantly throwing themed parties. There is a good scene at a “Harry Potter” party.

Then there is Carrey himself. His performance falls somewhere in between his over-the-top comedic feats and his more low-key work. It is more or less what you expect from him and little more. I smiled throughout and laughed out loud several times. That was enough for me.

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