Review by James Mahon
After describing the plot of Yes Day (Miguel Arteta) to a friend of mine he proclaimed, “That sounds terrible”. Caution is always advised when giving weight to a judgment based on a loose plot description. In this case, however, my friend had captured my thoughts exactly after I watched the whirlwind of teenage fights, foam explosions and parental breakdowns that was Yes Day.
The core of Yes Day centres around Allison Torres (Jennifer Garner) and her husband Carlos (Edgar Ramírez). Allison and Carlos had been spontaneous, energetic, and incredibly open-minded in their early romantic days. They went rocking climbing on the spur of the moment and jumped out of planes whenever they felt like it. But all this dramatically changes: married and with 3 kids, Allison has turned into an autocratic tyrant who says no to everything her brutally oppressed children ask for. Carlos, on the other hand, has taken shelter in his work, where he also (surprise surprise) says no to everything. However, one day a guidance counsellor in the school cafeteria suggests they both try a Yes Day, and agree to whatever their children ask for for 24 hours (with some guidelines of course). Predictably, chaos ensues.
Most of this is projectile vomited in your direction after two minutes of montage clips, helped by some narration from Garner. More fundamentally though, Yes Day’s problem becomes apparent soon into viewing: its lack of a target audience. It seems the film is attempting to do what few films ever achieve and appeal to kids, teenagers, and adults all at once. Justin Malen’s screenplay of childish gags, generic teenage rebellion and caricature illustrations results in an incoherent mishmash of material that fails spectacularly.
This stems, in part, from the film’s length. 80 minutes is not long for a film, particularly one that tries to include so much in a condensed period. The outcome is superficiality, shallowness, and complete lack of character depth. To offer a few examples, Garner’s and Ramírez’s romance and eventual marriage is done in 30 seconds and the transformation of Julian Lerner as Nando Torres (their 11-year-old son) from failing to star student is completed in 10 seconds. This extends to the broader thematic relationships of the film. The conflict and eventual resolution between Garner and her rebellious teenage daughter (Jenna Ortega) was impossible to connect with on any emotional level, perhaps because it seemed to the viewer over before it began. Similarly, Ramírez’s awakening to the importance of family occurs in the space of five minutes: he goes from a neurotic work obsessed individual to a caring loving father quicker than Usain Bolt.
Perhaps an even bigger compounding factor is the screenplay. The generic, cliché-ridden script turns a film with an intriguing premise into a mundane, formulaic, colour-by-numbers hour and a half. But even worse is the dialogue. Every interaction between every character can be predicted before they say anything, with abysmal attempts to incorporate comedy that go beyond that of juvenility.
Ultimately, I would go as far to suggest that my friend, in a 3-word soundbite, had not only perfectly described my feelings, but that of many on completion of viewing. We quickly moved on to another topic of conversation and forgot about the film, something I expect that will happen to most people who will see Yes Day.