Friday, January 2, 2009

Attending Jogging Photography Class

Sometimes you respond to a movie for reasons that only partly have to do with what’s onscreen. Or maybe the general mediocrity of what you’re watching mixes in just the right way with what’s going through your head so you can’t help but kind of go along with it. So there’s nothing really wrong with the fact that I sort of like YES MAN, is there? Or even that I actually went to see it? What, are you going to tell me that you can defend everything you’ve gone to see?

I won’t spend too much time on the plot and it doesn’t really warrant it anyway: Carl Allen (Jim Carrey) is going through the motions in life and he isn’t doing anything to change this. He’s constantly bailing on his friends, his ex-wife (Molly Sims) is seeing another guy and he’s depressed about his job as a loan officer. When he blows off his best friend (MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN’s Bradley Cooper) one time too many by not attending his engagement party, he decides to take the advice of old pal Nick (John Michael Higgins) and attend a “Yes!” seminar run by self-help guru Terrence Bundley (Terence Stamp) who singles him out in front of everyone to agree to say “Yes” to everything that comes his way, telling him that he must never break this covenant. No sooner does he begin saying “Yes” to everything does he meet free-spirit Allison (Zooey Deschanel) and as he continues to say “Yes” everything in his life opens up and begins to improve. Of course, the trouble happens when it turns out he’s been saying “Yes” one time too many.

It’s not much of a plot and doesn’t even have the supernatural hook that something like LIAR LIAR, which everyone seems to think it’s a ripoff of, had. Very little is ever at stake and even when the expected third-act complications arise, the conflict feels about as minor as humanly possible. But it’s perfectly pleasant stuff pleasant and, directed by Peyton Reed (BRING IT ON and DOWN WITH LOVE) even feels a little retro, almost as if the version made starring some comedian several decades ago wouldn’t have been all that different. I don’t know if I laughed all that much during YES MAN, but I’ll admit that I had a smile on my face a good chunk of the time. Carrey is his likable self which helps a lot with bits stuck in throughout that are probably ad-libs--yeah, he's too old for the role but his enthusiasm manages to make that not much of an issue. It’s a pleasant movie and I mean that in the nicest possible way, compared with something like the FUN WITH DICK AND JANE remake which just felt manic and cut down to the Carrey antics as much as humanly possible. Filmed in Los Angeles, with an emphasis placed on locations around Silverlake and Atwater Village (locals will want to know that Spaceland and the Bigfoot Lodge turn up in multiple sequences), the film is well-cast with familiar faces who pretty much do exactly what they’re supposed to do. Higgins is always good in these things and I’ve always liked Sasha Alexander, who plays Cooper’s fiancé, but particularly funny is Rhys Darby, Murray on FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS, as Carrey’s overeager boss and of course it always helps to have Terence Stamp, here in one of two films of the Christmas season, even if it is pretty much a guest star cameo role. Come to think of it, this is the second 2008 film where I got a laugh out of Stamp simply saying, “No” at one point. I’ll let you figure out what the first one was.

But a lot of the positive feelings I had towards the film had to do with Zooey Deschanel as Carrey’s love interest who I pretty much fell for big time while watching it. Just a few days ago the actress announced that she was getting engaged, so that’s my own perfect timing right there, but it doesn’t matter. She plays that sort of massively cute Silverlake girl who rides a scooter, is in a band named “Munchausen by Proxy,” does something ‘kooky’ on the side (in this case, she runs a “jogging photography” class) and is free of any possible baggage beyond an ex-boyfriend she mentions in about two lines. How it is that she doesn’t have a boyfriend (because, really, these girls ALWAYS have boyfriends) is considerably less plausible than that other Carrey character not being able to lie, but I guess none of that matters anyway (to use yet another Carrey film as an example, I guess she’s the cleaned-up Hollywood version of Kate Winslet in ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND). There’s just something irresistible about Deschanel here and it made me want to go out and just do stuff, ignore my job for a little while and maybe do something in life that would allow me to meet Zooey Deschanel. In telling this to somebody I know they pointed out to me that this sort of dramatic creation has already been given the moniker of Manic Pixie Dream Girl, which made perfect sense to me. She’s not one of the best examples that I’ve seen listed, but there are plenty that don’t come close to measuring up to her.

There’s not much else to say about the movie—it’s an enormously minor piece of work. I'm not even saying that you should go out of your way to see it. But it’s fairly short, mildly amusing and it put me in a decent mood as I left the theater, wanting to go out into the world and do things in life which maybe would lead to meeting Zooey Deschanel, or some sort of equivalent, in the process. And at the onset of the New Year, there are worse thoughts for a person to have so that’s pretty much what’s on my mind right now.


James said...

Mr. Peel, the definition on Wikipedia in reference to MAGIC PIXIE DREAM GIRL (" ... to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.") could very well pertain to Ruth Gordon in HAROLD AND MAUDE. But, she's no Zooey Deschanel.

Anonymous said...

Re: Zooey Deschanel

I plan on seeing "Yes, Man" for Zooey as well. Someone should start a club (her fiancee is not invited.)

- Bob

rebecca said...

Funny, I was thinking Zooey Deschanel is no Ruth Gordon.

Joe Valdez said...

Thanks for giving so much more thought to Yes Man than it deserved, Peel. I think there is still hope for you though because the true Manic Pixie Dream Girl has no boyfriend (Natalie Portman in Garden State, Maggie Gyllenhaal in Stranger Than Fiction). More than 5 minutes alone with these women is usually enough to scare men away.

The Silverlake Girl you described always has a boyfriend because they are predictable; moved to L.A. from Boston, college educated but not too intelligent, works in marketing in either music or film, but is convinced that what she really wants is to have kids, so she's holding onto that dude she's been with for the last 4 years, hoping he'll propose sooner or later, not realizing men in L.A. don't get married anymore.

Not speaking from personal experience or anything ...

Good review!

J.D. said...

I enjoyed this review and certainly share your sentiments about Zooey Deschanel. I watch ELF again for the upteenth time over the holidays and fell in love with her all over again. That scene where she's singing in the shower gets me every time.

Mr. Peel said...

Very little for me to add, but my thanks to everyone. YES MAN is definitely no HAROLD AND MAUDE, but Zooey, well, she has her own unique charms. And thanks for that, Joe. While I may not have experienced what you describe...I understand.