Movie Review: Monsieur Oui
By Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune Movie Critic
Director Peyton Reed is used to working in italics. His "Down With Love" (2003) was an entirely italicized movie, reworking the plot mechanics and arch visual strategies of the Doris Day/Rock Hudson sex comedies of the late 1950s and early '60s, along with Broadway-to-Hollywood adaptations such as "Sunday in New York" (1963). It turned out more like a cinematic term paper than a movie, but Reed's willingness to go all the way - further than Doris Day ever did, at least before the ring and the fade-out - marked him as a director to watch.
In "Yes Man" he's working with the human italic button known as Jim Carrey, who shot to movie fame as Ace Ventura and The Mask, characters straight from the cartoon world or the world according to Frank Tashlin's live-action comedies. These days (Carrey turns 47 next month) the star isn't going for insanely broad comedy. When he lands the right script, as he did with "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," Carrey finds real and touching ways to channel all that energy into a performance, as opposed to a performance.
"Yes Man" starts out wobbly but ends up quite nicely, primarily because Carrey has a wonderful acting partner in Zooey Deschanel, the singer-actress with the saucer eyes and unpredictable, behind-the-beat comic timing. Carrey by nature is a coiled spring; Deschanel's a spring that's already sproiiiinged. If she ever co-stars in a movie with Kat Dennings of "Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist," the world will immediately enter a permanent Zenlike state of calm.
Carrey plays Carl Allen, an L.A. loan officer at a drab bank, stuck with a goon of a superior (Rhys Darby, very funny). Carl can't get out of his surly, self-pitying rut, three long years after his breakup. For the first 20 minutes of "Yes Man," which was loosely based on Scottish comedian Danny Wallace's book, you think you're in for it. Carrey forces the laughs, and the character's an uninteresting, sour fellow. Then comes Terence Stamp, in his first genuinely funny screen appearance, as a self-help guru who challenges his followers to say "yes" to every single thing that comes their way. Carl tries it, and before long he meets Allison (Deschanel), a bohemian L.A. polyglot who's in a band called Munchausen By Proxy, and who teaches classes in "jogging photography," i.e., taking photos while jogging.
In its tale of an emotional shut-in who learns to embrace life, get a pilot's license and speak Korean, "Yes Man" recalls some previous Carrey vehicles, notably "Liar Liar." The tone of "Yes Man" isn't predominantly manic, however, and may throw some die-hard Carrey fans expecting the old shtick in high gear.
We don't like our movie stars to change on us, and yet they must, if they're to grow as actors. What I enjoyed most here was the interplay between two utterly different leads. Director Reed can't resolve the tensions in a spotty script by Nicholas Stoller, Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel, which feels like a compromise between two (or more) separate drafts, one leaning in the direction of farce, the other romance. But Carrey and Deschanel are pretty amazing to watch together onscreen. And that makes "Yes Man" movie enough for me.
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for crude sexual humor, language and brief nudity).
Running time: 1:44.
Starring: Jim Carrey (Carl Allen); Zooey Deschanel (Allison); Bradley Cooper (Peter); John Michael Higgins (Nick); Terence Stamp (Terrence); Rhys Darby (Norm).
Directed by Peyton Reed; written by Nicholas Stoller, Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel, based on the book by Danny Wallace; photographed by Robert Yeoman; edited by Craig Alpert; music by Lyle Workman and Mark Oliver Everett; production designed by Andrew Laws; produced by Richard D. Zanuck and David Heyman. A Warner Bros. Pictures release.