Synopsis – A mom and dad who usually say no decide to say yes to their kids’ wildest requests with a few ground rules on a whirlwind day of fun and adventure.
My Take – As a parent myself I am quite familiar with the word ‘No’ and the number of times me and my wife use it on a regular basis. But having regretted about growing up in a more traditional family space, we do value and understand the importance of showing our kid(s) that despite being adults burdened in an all too serious world, we too can switch off everything and be fun when we want to be.
A factor laid out in this latest Netflix release, which is inspired by author Amy Krouse Rosenthal‘s popular children’s book and producer-star Jennifer Garner’s own personal experiences of bringing the ‘Yes Day’ to life. As one would expect, this new wholesome family comedy is nothing you haven’t seen before, especially the jokes, the conflicts and the resolution.
But, what turns this Miguel Arteta (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) directed film into a winner is that it seems content in its limited ambition without trying to be subversive, edgy or original. It knows what it is and makes no apologies for it. It is the kind of family comedy that is dated enough to feel nostalgic, and offers enough familiarity, gloss and overall feel-good moments to make it worth your time especially at the end of a weekday.
While it’s target audience is obviously a much younger demographic, however, it still does offer important lessons about trust, self-consciousness and responsibility with enough clarity between the ongoing hilarious antics and is charming enough for a whole family to get a kick out of.
Sure, the film is not going to win any awards, but at the least it does spark some ideas about how a family can get out of their mundane routines and have some fun together.
The story follows Allison (Jennifer Garner), who once upon a time said yes to everything. From jumping out of planes to hanging off the side of mountains to following a group of nuns in a foreign city, she was the most fun person she knew. And when she and Carlos (Édgar Ramírez) first met, their life philosophy was to go for it, say yes to everything because you don’t know where it leads you.
Now married, with three kids, the teenager Katie (Jenna Ortega), the eldest, middle child Nando (Julian Lerner), and little Ellie (Everly Carganilla), the couple who once lived for yes now spend their days saying no to just about everything. Allison especially is forced to be the bad guy at home, and while Carlos has to do the same at work as a lawyer, he avoids playing the same role at home.
But after a less-than-ideal parent-teacher conference that revealed her kids comparing to dictators and tagged a fun killer, Allison decides to exercise the suggestion provided by Mr. Deacon (Nat Faxon), the school guidance counselor, by offering the kids a ‘Yes Day’. A day where the children get to call the shots and the parents need to participate, no questions asked. With a few ground rules in place, the family takes off on 24 hour ride where the parents might gain more than the kids do.
Other than being centered on a mixed-race family, with cultural traditions and a second language seamlessly woven in without comment, the rest of the film plays out exactly how you’d expect it to. The premise gives the film ample opportunity to stage grand set pieces that will really ring the wish fulfillment bells of younger audience members, including gorging on ice cream for breakfast, the greatest all-in water balloon fight and an unusual trip to the car wash.
It’s a Jim Carrey sort of premise, quite in vein with his Yes Man (2008) only with a splash of Nickelodeon style film making. Like I mentioned before, yes, it is formulaic and ticks a lot of the obvious boxes. And because it’s such familiar fodder, it’s also no surprise that there’s no nuance either like Allison’s desire to return to work and Carlos’s tendency toward overprotective caution are narrative threads that get a single mention, and then are never pulled on again.
The emotional beats are grounded in the tensions between Allison and 14-year-old daughter Katie, a frequently rehashed dynamic of the teenager who wants independence and the protective mother not yet ready to let her go.
But I can imagine, family comedies are harder to craft, as it has to be not only relentlessly entertaining, but must manage to strike a chord with the widest possible demographic. Thankfully, director Arteta injects enough strangeness into the film’s proceedings to keep its rote elements mostly engaging for the older crowd.
Part of this is the savvy casting and utilization of some side characters, and consistently coloring the kinds of standard kid fantasies composing the plot with unexpected details. Here, his hand in crafting the family’s relationships to one another is completely effective and feels cohesive without excessive techniques or narrative flourish to convince.
It also helps that the film coasts on the considerable star power of its leads Jennifer Garner and Édgar Ramírez. While Garner, channels her signature endearing charm, Ramírez cast totally against type as a goofball dad who is willing to twerk at the breakfast table with his kids, is excellent. Both Garner and Ramírez are funny and vibrant, selling not only their own characters but the relationship between them with ease.
The kids are wonderful too. Netflix favorite Jenna Ortega continues to make her mark as a talented performer, with younger ones, Julian Lerner and Everly Carganilla easily managing to hold their own opposite much experienced performers. In smaller roles, Nat Faxon, Fortune Feimster and Arturo Castro, also turn in fun performances. On the whole, ‘Yes Day’ is a familiar yet fun wholesome family comedy laden with life lessons, sentiment and charismatic stars.
Directed – Miguel Arteta
Rated – PG
Run Time – 86 minutes