Despite the contrived feel to its concept, 'Yes Man' is a diverting and often hilarious piece of self-help comedy.
Carl Allen (Carrey) is someone we can all see a little of ourselves in. Divorced, stuck in a dead end banking job, withdrawn from his friends and totally unadventurous, he says ' no' to pretty much every invitation that comes his way.
A meeting with an old friend is followed by a trip to a 'Say Yes'-based conference where a self-help guru (Stamp) tells Carl that he must say 'yes' to everything anyone asks him to do.
Despite the epiphany, things don't start off too well with Carl forced to drive a tramp to a park and hand over all his money. Then, he runs out of petrol. Then, just as it's starting to seem as though the whole 'yes' thing has gone and made things worse, Carl meets a hot new girl (Deschanel), gets a kiss and rides a motorcycle.
From the simple 'maybe this yes thing isn't so bad after all' setup, a host of comedic possibilities follow. Carl gets promoted, stays out and gets drunk with his friends, develops a bond with his boss Norman (Darby) and has a 'relationship' with his aging Irish granny next door neighbour. Once he has all that out of the way, he starts a new relationship with the moped girl.
Eventually, the problems of saying 'yes' all the time to everything begin to emerge and Carl has to decide whether to choose saying 'yes' or a balanced approach – though the pseudo-philosophy is kept to the background, behind the relationships and characters. Thankfully, these are strong and interesting, and backed by very good performances across the board.
Carl is more often played for the most part by 'proper acting' Jim Carrey of 'The Truman Show' than the rubber faced 'Ace Ventura' version, although he occasionally intrudes. In the quieter moments, Carrey's genuine talents gently shine through as, despite having some undeniably tough material to sell, Carrey makes Carl a character that the audience can buy in to and like.
The supporting cast is a huge plus, with Fionnuala Flanagan's Irish granny particularly excellent and Rhys Darby's scene stealing geeky Australian bank boss ingeniously funny. Zooey Deschanel, who plays Carl's will they/won't they girlfriend Allison, and Bradley Cooper in the 'straight' roles are also ideal and director Peyton Reed is probably due a significant portion of the credit for making his actors look so good and telling this story so well.
Carrey has previous in this concept driven type of film - 'Liar, Liar' was based on a very similar idea - but there's more depth and variety to this effort. It's funnier, and while there are some borderline incidents, the corny vibe doesn't get too out of hand. It's even almost - and this is hard to say, given that it's based on self-help drivel – thought- provoking.