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September 1st, 2008:
A guy challenges himself to say "yes" to everything for an entire year. Based on the memoir by Danny Wallace.What to Expect: Jim Carrey
's career could be probably best be described as uneven. He was super hot in the late 1990s, but since then... spotty. His forays into drama have been both successful (The Truman Show) and dismal (The Majestic). His recent attempt at horror, "The Number 23
," was practically laughed out of the theaters. His pace of work has slowed considerably; he's made five films since 2004, only two of which ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and "A Series of Unfortunate Events") can really be called successful films. It's interesting to note that neither of them were quote-unquote "Jim Carrey fims." Eternal Sunshine was a Charlie Kaufman film if it was anything, and Lemony Snicket was...well, Lemony Snicket. His last traditional Carrey film, by which I mean an energetic comedy, was "Fun with Dick & Jane," which was no fun for anybody, especially the studio's accountants. His last success in his own genre was 2003's "Bruce Almighty." Article continues below
It seems that Carrey has learned that old Hollywood lesson: stick to what works. Here he is, back at the plate and taking a swing with "Yes Man," another high-concept comedy of the sort that he's known for. The film is (loosely) based upon a biography by humorist Danny Wallace, who decided to say yes to everything and see how it changed him. This film takes the concept and runs with it, and according to people who've read the book (which I must confess I have not, in the interest of journalistic integrity), the title and the broad concept are all that the film seems to share with it. Not a faithful adaptation, we're given to understand.
Hmm, I hear you thinking, it seems like I've seen this movie before. Agreeing with you are the battalions of filmgoers who point out that this concept bears more than a passing resemblance to that of "Liar, Liar," in which the slimy lawyer Carrey plays is rendered incapable of lying by his son's birthday wish. Bearing in mind that "Yes Man" contains no fantastical elements (the character simply decides to behave differently) and that "telling the truth" and "saying yes to everything" are not, in fact, the same, the overall plot concept is undeniably similar. A man stuck in a rut goes through a significant behavioral change which turns his world upside down. Okay, fine. Actually, as one blogger pointed out, if "Yes Man" resembles anything, it resembles that Seinfeld episode where George decided to do the exact opposite of what he'd normally do. That, at least, is encouraging...it's one of the all-time classic Seinfeld episodes. Can we call that "proof of concept," as the Mythbusters would say? Maybe, but as several dozen failed SNL-skit films can attest, a concept that works in a short format does not necessarily work as a feature film.
All right. The concept sounds like it could produce some humor, albeit of a kind we've seen before. Jim Carrey is without question experienced at this genre of film. Therein might lie one problem. He is experienced. Jim Carrey is 46 years old. The fact is that he's getting a little long in the tooth to carry off this kind of wacky comedy, which is a genre of the young. It's difficult to accept a man of that age in these kinds of situations. What is endearing and funny in a thirty year old is just kinda pathetic in a man pushing fifty. There's a reason younger actors do screwball comedy and older ones do romantic and highbrow comedy. It also seems as though the director, Peyton Reed
, has chosen to surround Carrey with actors significantly younger than he is, which will only call attention to the age issue.
Let's take his romantic lead, Zooey Deschanel
, who is 28. Not only is she nearly twenty years his junior, but going by the plot summaries and advance publicity, she is playing my least favorite female archetype character: the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
Let me explain that.
I can't take credit for the term, I'm just doing what I can to promote it, because it's perfect. The term was coined by The Onion A.V. Club blogger Nathan Rubin in his review
of "Elizabethtown." So who is this Manic Pixie Dream Girl? She's a creation of angsty writers who envision a miracle woman who will appear and teach them About Life. As Rubin says, "the Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures." The quintessential MPDG of recent film is Natalie Portman in "Garden State," but there are many other examples. Ironically, Carrey's film "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" skewered this film convention by having his female lead, played by Kate Winslet, complain that she was forever meeting men who wanted her to be their MPDG. Now, hearing the word "pixie" certainly calls to mind Zooey Deschanel, a quirky and likable actress, and I hate to see her shoehorned into this shallow but all too common female characterization, which typically reduces the woman's personality into a set of quirks designed to satisfy some soul-deep need in the broody male protagonist. They're not realistic characters, or ones with motivations and internal dialogues of their own, except as it pertains to the male character's personal journey.
Ahem. Getting off my soapbox now.
This film is the brainchild of "Harry Potter" producer David Heyman, whose resume has been so controlled by the boy wizard since 2000 that it's hardly surprising he'd want to branch out. Also on the production end, this film is an example of recent Hollywood belt-tightening. Successful films are increasingly less dependent on marquee names and more dependent on execution and concept. The era of the box-office draw may be ending, and the salaries once commanded by A-list stars are feeling the bite. The economy and the cost of production have forced some tough decisions in the area of talent compensation, one of the few variables in filmmaking. For this film, Carrey passed on his usual hefty up-front fee in exchange for a 33% share of the profits...but even there, negotiations have changed. Stars used to get back-end deals on "first dollar" grosses, in other words, they got a share of every dollar the film made. These days, as with this film, it's becoming more and more common for stars to get a share of the profit only after the studio has recouped its cost of production.
"Yes Man" was directed by Peyton Reed, a predominantly small-screen director who also directed "Bring It On," "Down With Love" and "The Break-Up
." It was shot from a script by "Fun With Dick & Jane" writer Nicholas Stoller and "Bewitched" writer Jarrad Paul, the more experienced of the writing team. Not much to write home about there, but when you're assembling a team for a Jim Carrey film, you don't usually swing for the bleachers to get the top-grade talent behind the camera or the keyboard. You're counting on Carrey to do your heavy lifting, and bring himself to the writing, which he will do... whether you want him to or not.
The problem is that so much of Carrey's shtick is so familiar that audiences have grown tired of it. His attempts to intentionally create new catchphrases are so blatant as to almost be insulting. Remember the endless repetitions of that "Bee-eee-ay-yootiful" in "Bruce Almighty?" Catchphrases like Ace Ventura's "Reeee-eee-allly" can't be engineered, they have to happen by themselves. So much of Carrey's early comedy was like that, it was organic, it just happened, it seemed to have sprung from his brow out of the sheer impulse of the moment. Of late, it feels forced, like he's trying so hard to recreate what made him famous that it all feels engineered, and comedy that is forced isn't funny. That whiff of desperation to recapture the glory days is all over the film's trailer, and audiences pick up on that stuff.
Perhaps I'm cynical, but this film, along with some of Carrey's offscreen behavior, feels a bit like an attention-grab. Last summer he was photographed with longtime girlfriend Jenny McCarthy on the beach. He and McCarthy clearly were aware that paparrazzi were about, so they emerged with Carrey wearing McCarthy's bikini. Funny, yes. Cute, sure. Evidence of their suitability as a couple, probably. Famewhoring? Perhaps. Carrey's star is no longer on the ascent, and his chances to capitalize on his fame are dwindling. A smart actor might seek ways to reinvent himself. Carrey has repeatedly done so throughout his career, and has demonstrated that he's very capable of handling other genres, and handling them well. He has other talents besides his rubber face and slapstick line deliveries. But instead of finding new ways to use them, he's running back to the genre that made him famous. One wonders if the spectacular crash-and-burn of "The Number 23" has him panicking, except that his upcoming films past "Yes Man" reveal some out-of-the-ordinary choices that could mean he is trying to reinvent himself. My theory is that he's hoping for some old-school success for "Yes Man" to springboard himself back onto the A-list, so he can strike out for lands unknown from a fortified position. If you'll forgive the tortured mixed metaphor.In Conclusion:
Hearing this film's summary and seeing its trailer inevitably sparks a "Liar, Liar" comparison in audiences, and the idea that Jim Carrey is rehashing former success isn't going to make people want to see this film. Fans of the book don't seem to be on board. Still, Carrey has the potential for good box-office draw, especially during the Christmas season when families look for films they can all see together. That strategy worked for "Bruce Almighty," another holiday release, and it could work again here. Some filmgoers are tired of Carrey's usual shtick, but I think many people still enjoy his brand of comedy, and will welcome his return to it here.Similar Titles: Liar Liar
, Evan Almighty