Carrey-ologists will enjoy poring over the semiotics of “Yes Man,” in one sense a very slight variation of one of Jim Carrey’s biggest hits, 1997’s Liar Liar. In both films, he plays a divorced professional man who has in essence checked out emotionally and spiritually. In the first he simply says whatever will get him what he wants, even if it is not true. He does the same here, except that it’s all the same lie: “I’m busy.” Like Melville’s famous character Bartleby he responds to all offers and invitations, one way or another, “I prefer not to.” Just as in a wish in “Liar Liar” turns him into a man who can only tell the truth, in this film a “no” character commits to saying “yes” to everything, from spam invitations to try out persianwife.com to a very big guy in a bar asking him if he wants to step outside for a fight.
Both films have wives who with new significant others who make the Carrey character feel diminished, and in both a large part of the screen time and all of the humor comes from Carrey’s squirming through the consequences of his reversal and the way he must deal with the larger consequences of his previous bad behavior. As always, Carrey makes some funny faces and uses his rubbery limbs to good comic effect.
But with nearly a decade between the two films, Carrey and Carl, his character, bring a more poignant sense of longing and lost chances. It is significant that this film does not require any hocus-pocus to get the story started. It just establishes that Carrey is a no-guy, feeling sorry for himself and turning down just about everything. Fortunately, he is a bank loan officer, so this tendency has professional benefits. But in his personal life, he says no to his friends and would-be friends (his nerdy boss) to stay home and watch DVDs and feel sorry for himself.
And then one day an old friend suggests that he go to a motivational seminar led by a man named Terrence (played by Terence Stamp, no idea why the character name has two r’s and the actor has just one) who persuades him to start saying “yes.” To everything. That means giving a ride to a homeless guy and going to his boss’s Harry Potter party, taking Korean lessons, and learning to fly. Not to mention approving a lot of loans. It seems to him that there is a pattern because each of those yeses leads to something unexpected and wonderful, the best of all being a free-spirited girl named Alison (Zooey Deschanel), a natural yes-er. Just a hop skip and a jump to the getting-to-know-you montage, the second act complication, and a happily-yessing-ever-after conclusion with a little gratuitous nudity.
The characters around Carl and Alison don’t add much and her character does not have much depth, but the Carrey and Deschanel have an easy chemistry that gives the film a strong center. And the film nicely hints at the interconnection of all things and the way the messages we send out to the universe — whether yes or no — reverberate and return to us.
Two guys who are super-smart and super-rich, Warren Buffet and Pete Peterson and one guy who is just super-smart, former Comptroller General of the United States David Walker have a message for Americans — don’t spend money you don’t have.
Think of Maxed Out, the terrifying documentary about the way credit card companies exploit the weak, the vulnerable, and the spendthrifts, crossed with An Inconvenient Truth, the terrifying documentary about the way the century following the industrial revolution has caused irreparable damage to the earth’s ecosystem, and you have “IOUSA,” which shows us irrefutable evidence that the biggest balloon payment in history is about to come due.
Using the now-familiar combination of folksy faux-archival educational movies, person-on-the-street interviews with completely clueless citizens (“I thought the US was lending money to other countries,” one says when asked about the size of our debt), bad news from a lot of very erudite talking heads and some really, really scary charts, “IOUSA” tells us that while we have been lowering taxes and increasing benefits we have been pushing onto our children and grandchildren the fastest-growing debt load in history. We finance this by selling our debt securities to countries that can afford them, like China. Foreign interests hold more than half of U.S. debt. China owns more than $500 billion worth. So does Japan. The movie says that the inability of Great Britain to defend the Suez Canal in 1956 was in part due to its vulnerability caused by post-WWII debt. It is certain that having countries like China, Japan ($583.3 billion), and the oil exporting countries ($170.4 billion) holding our I.O.U.’s puts a worrisome burden on our ability to engage in diplomatic negotiations.
Most troubling is that the Enron-like accounting that hides the real debt level for political expediency. Just as Enron used “special purpose entities” to keep its debts off the balance sheet, the government does not include Social Security and the costs of other benefit programs in its financial statement. The entitlement programs currently in place will bankrupt the system when the baby boomers start receiving benefits.
It is difficult to make a dry and disturbing subject like budget deficits seem interesting and vital. There are no cuddly polar bears trying to hold on to shrinking ice caps or visceral individual stories like those in Michael Moore’s movies. But this movie makes a devastating case for the consequence of our current “rob Peter to pay Paul” budgetary shell game. It is like fiscal musical chairs; when the music stops, there will be no place to sit.
America has redefined the rules and shown the world new possibilities since our beginning. Now we face the direst challenge in our history — to reverse what has always been the inevitable cycle of history and create sustained growth and prosperity. This movie asks the important questions and makes it clear that it is we who must answer them.
Maurice Jarre wrote soundtracks for movies that became the soundtracks for our lives. The lush romantic score for Dr Zhivago (known as “Somewhere My Love”) is inseparable from the snowy vistas of the story. The sweep of his score for Lawrence of Arabia perfectly matched the endless sweep of the desert and the endless competing ambitions of the title character. Both won Oscars as did a third score Jarre did for director David Lean, A Passage to India. Other memorable scores included “Fatal Attraction,” “The Year of Living Dangerously,” and “Dead Poet’s Society.”
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Ebertfest #3 -- The "Ida" Panel [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yk2--Y8hfqQ[/youtube]
Thanks to Matt Zoller Seitz, Sheila O'Malley, and Todd Rendleman for our superb discussion about this year's Oscar winner for best foreign language movie, "Ida." ...
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