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Just say no ... to everything.
That's what Carl Allen does. As a bank loan manager, he gets lots of practice. When folks come in and ask for money, he says no. When his elderly neighbor asks him if he'd like some breakfast, he says no. When his boss invites him to a "funny hat and/or wig party," he says no. He never goes out, if he can help it: His friends (a miracle he has any, really) drag him out every now and then, but he invariably has a miserable time and leaves before his faux-leather booth seat has even warmed up.
Carl can't even break away from his comfy living room couch long enough to attend his best friend's engagement party. And that no-show pushes the honoree, Peter, over the edge.
"If you don't change your life, you're going to end up a lonely guy," Peter says.
Carl doesn't want to end up lonely. So he shucks his cocoon and attends a self-help seminar led by professional motivator Terrence Bundley. (Think Dale Carnegie, Benny Hinn and Richard Simmons all wrapped up in the skin of a stern British butler.) His shtick? Get people to say yes.
Yeah, that's it.
And you need to pay how much for this seminar?
No matter. Carl buys what Terrence is selling. And he makes a "covenant" with Terrence to say yes to every opportunity that presents itself, no matter what it is.
Yes is good. Sometimes. Carl had become a spectator in his own life, watching it roll by while he makes his couch ever more formfitting.
"When you say yes," Terrence thunders, "you embrace the possible." And this, on one level, is true. Carl's first yes goes to a homeless man who asks for a ride to a nearby park—a detour that brings Carl into contact with a scooter-driving beauty named Allison. He puts up a set of shelves for his elderly neighbor, Tillie. He volunteers at a soup kitchen, learns Korean and starts playing the guitar. Gradually, his world expands beyond his couch and video queue. And he discovers he's not the only one benefiting from this new zest for life. He cheers up a Korean woman by talking to her in her native language. He (improbably) "sings" a man down from a building ledge. He forms new ties with his boss. And he throws Peter's fiancée a spectacular bridal shower. All through the magic of yes.
Of course, yes has its moral downsides, some of which we'll document in the following "content" sections. Additionally, Carl realizes that saying yes to everything leads to just as many life problems as saying no. "There is a middle ground here, Carl," Peter tells him, and by movie's end, Carl seems to have gotten closer to equilibrium. He figures out how to create a few healthy boundaries between himself and his beautiful, confused ex-wife. And when Allison asks Carl if they should move in together, he manages to say no to that, too.
Here's the rather obvious lesson Carl learns: Embrace life, but be sensible about it.
Carl could have just as easily learned that in most any church, but the makers of Yes Man said no to that idea. Instead, you have Terrence's quasi-spiritual cheerleading. Terrence's first encounter with Carl resembles a charismatic healing ceremony as the motivator grabs Carl's head with both hands and thrashes him around for a minute—as if he's trying to cast out Carl's demons.
Carl becomes a true zealot after he temporarily breaks the covenant and hits a patch of bad luck. From that point on, Carl sees Terrence's philosophy as more than good advice: It becomes a kind of supernatural faith—one in which Terrence giveth and Terrence taketh away.
Terrence does no such thing, of course. "There was no covenant," Terrence tells Carl. "There never was. I was just riffing."
Elsewhere, a homeless man says "God bless you" to Carl after Carl gives him a wad of dough. And a suicidal apartment dweller owns what looks to be a kitschy tapestry of the Virgin Mary.
Required by the covenant to say yes to everything, Carl affirmatively answers spam e-mails that a) promise to increase the size of a certain critical part of his anatomy and b) will send him a Persian "bride." Carl has no interest in the would-be bride when she arrives, but he does take her out to lunch.
After Carl puts up shelves for Tillie, the woman wants to pay him back by giving him oral sex. Carl initially refuses, but, after he feels like he's being punished for breaking the yes covenant, he goes back and Tillie does the deed. (We see Carl from the waist up.) Tillie later leads one of Carl's friends into a back room, presumably to give him the same treatment.
The film suggests that Carl has sex with girlfriend Allison at the deserted Hollywood Bowl: The two begin to kiss, and they sink to the theater floor before the camera cuts away. Carl's ex-wife also passionately kisses him. He sees his ex-wife and her new boyfriend fondle each other (we don't) and utters the name of a venereal disease. He kisses a strange woman at a bar.
We see part of a man's backside through a hospital gown, and a nurse reveals a bit of cleavage. One of Carl's friends sneaks into a vacated hospital bed "just in case the nurse comes back." Someone references someone else's "package." A seminar is filled with nude people, all of whom cover private body parts. Carl makes a reference to modeling nude. There are several double entendres.
Carl watches a scene from the film Saw. (The clip we see doesn't have any blood or gore.) Slapstick pratfalls involve slipping, sliding, falling, chasing and bonking. A friend of Carl's tosses a rock through a bank window and then rumbles with a pair of security guards. Terrence smacks Carl in the forehead with a microphone.
In a dream sequence, Carl lies on his couch, comically contorted in death, while a fly crawls along his open eye and into his mouth. The rock band Allison fronts (called Munchausen by Proxy) dabbles in violent lyrics: Allison sings that she'll "snap your neck and spit on you."
Carl and Terrence get into a car accident that sends them both to the hospital. (Terrence's face is cut in a few places.) A man threatens suicide. Allison and Carl go skeet shooting, and Allison accidentally fires a round into the ground. One of Carl's friends mentions that he once shot a cow with a bazooka.
Crude or Profane Language
Characters say the f-word once (and another is hinted at). There are nine or 10 s-words. In addition, the song "F--- This S---" is listed in the credits. God's and Jesus' names are carelessly interjected about 20 times. (God's is paired with "d--n" at least three times.) A variety of other rude and crude words include "b--tard," "h---" and "a--."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Scenes are shot at numerous watering holes, and most of the folks we meet drink wine, beer and/or mixed drinks. Peter tells his friends that his engagement will feature an open bar.Carl and his buddies have far too much to drink at a club. (Carl actually snorts some hot sauce, too.) Obviously drunk, Carl gets in a fight. The fight—and the night—do not end well: Carl wakes up in his bathroom, his legs wrapped around the toilet. Yet he chuckles when he wakes up, remembering, apparently, the night's escapades.
Carl also pulls an all-nighter (and attends, he says, a couple of raves) with the help of a case of Red Bull. The ensuing caffeine crash leaves the guy sprawled out, unconscious, in the middle of a jogging trail.
Other Negative Elements
Both Allison and Carl could stand to take some scooter-driving lessons. And the two break into the grounds of the Hollywood Bowl.
Yes Man trumpets the virtues of saying yes—to live our lives with gusto and joy. And that is, in some respects, a great message.
But I wonder: Is this an ethos that's somehow lacking traction in our society?
Let's skirt the obvious dangers of saying yes to violence or drug abuse or one-night stands or any of the myriad ethical, moral and physical dangers unmindful adherence to such a philosophy might trigger.
Instead, let's take a closer look at Carl and his role as a loan officer: Once Carl converts to the yes way of life, he starts approving loans with the speed of a caffeinated mayfly—501 in one month, when most loan officers approve around 30 or 40, we're told. He approves them for all sorts of things—some for upstart businesses, but most for things like jewelry, TVs and motorcycles. It's stuff nobody really needs, but buying it, we're told, makes the buyers feel better. Carl's boss is impressed with his initiative, so he gets promoted. Carl's boss's boss is thrilled the bank is making money off Carl's "micro-loans," so he promotes the guy again. All because Carl could not say no.
Ah, the irony. This plotline might as well bear the tag, "How to win friends and ruin their financial lives."
Pick up a newspaper or turn on the television news, and you'll see the real-life results of what happens when we can't say no. At the time of this film's release, foreclosure rates are soaring. Loan defaults are at record highs. The government is bailing out banks and lending agencies to the tune of $1 trillion, primarily because these organizations doled out too much money to too many bad credit risks. They—and we, as consumers—are infatuated with yes.
I don���t want to be too much of a downer—this is a Jim Carrey comedy, after all. But in America, saying yes isn't our problem. And that's something Yes Man never comes to terms with. Even when Carl begins to say no again, it's only because he wants to say no every now and then—not because he knows he needs to. Sure, the film talks about balance. But it never dips into sacrifice, prudence or responsibility.
What it does dip into are pools of sexual content, heavy drinking and foul language. And that makes it pretty easy to say no to.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Jim Carrey as Carl Allen; Zooey Deschanel as Allison; Bradley Cooper as Peter; John Michael Higgins as Nick; Rhys Darby as Norman; Danny Masterson as Rooney; Terence Stamp as Terrence Bundley