Jim Carrey is a genius. Wholly, sincerely. Without pause or qualification. A towering, immoderately gifted, once-or-twice-in-a-generation genius. If you don’t agree, you just wait a couple decades, and then you go ahead and try to wade through the glittering retrospectives and the Kennedy Center Honors broadcasts, push aside the Oscar(s) (oh, you betcha — he’s gonna get one before it’s all over, even if it’s one of them sorry-we-were-morons-about-this-earlier Peter O’Toole awards) and the reverent, same-breath comparisons to Dick Van Dyke (my wife’s gonna smack me, but you know it makes perfect sense) and tell me that he isn’t, at least, one of the most brilliant physical comedians this planet has produced.
You won’t be able to, is the thing. Dude’s essentially a legend. For realsies.
(So, you know. Just to save you the time-biding and all.)
Now, don’t let’s get our signals all crossed up here. I’m not saying that Carrey, at this point, has consistently displayed the sort of subtlety and vulnerability of performance that is the hallmark of our finest and most affecting dramatic actors, his remarkable turn in Eternal Sunshine notwithstanding. I am, however, saying that: 1) I think he’s got it in him to do it, if he can let his guard down sufficiently (which might prove not only positively breathtaking to witness, but also rather vital for his career, as it would enable Carrey, now nearly 50, to trade roles banking on Van Dyke-ish slapstick for smaller, charm-driven fare, like that which often fell to another Carrey hero, Jimmy Stewart), and 2) at his best, Jim Carrey can make just about anyone — myself very much included — laugh his or her pants clean off.
Yes Man posits Carrey as Carl Allen, a dumped, reclusive loan officer (Got that? So, a guy whose job is to deny or approve folks’ financial entreaties) who instinctively declines every invitation and opportunity he encounters — until a seminar on saying “yes,” given by Terrence Stamp, persuades Allen to turn an abrupt and pointed 180 degrees. (Why? Because you’d alter your life’s trajectory, too, if General Zod told you to). Now a compulsive consenter, once-bland Carl finds himself a hapless party to a world of unrestrained experience: bar-fighting, guitar lessons, mail-order marriage, at least one patently uncomfortable sexual situation, and yes, new (and true?) love.
The natural response: Eleven years later, who asked for an alt-universe Liar Liar? Well, you’re right, of course. And indeed, though the writing here is a sight snappier than that in Fun With Dick and Jane (Carrey’s last live-action comedy — cowritten, like this one, by Forgetting Sarah Marshall director Nicholas Stoller), which seemed to rely largely on extended Carrey ad-libs, a significant portion of Yes Man feels thin and uninteresting. But then, about halfway through, a scene with Luis Guzman made me howl, and I didn’t look back. Sure, the character arcs aren’t believable, Carrey’s not even attempting nuance, and Carl’s friends and love interest are all noticeably, weirdly younger than he is — I still laughed. You can see him trying, you betcha, but when it works, as it does at times in Yes Man, he still brings the house down as only Jim Carrey can. •