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Eating ice cream is fun. Riding roller coasters is lots of fun. Watching other people do those things in a movie can be fun, or at least pleasant, under the right circumstances. Those circumstances do not arise in Miguel Arteta’s insipid family pic Yes Day, about two lame-o parents (Jennifer Garner and Edgar Ramirez) who decide to re-win their kids’ love by letting them do absolutely anything they want to do for one special day. It’s not impossible that there are Netflix households, a year into the pandemic, in which this flat-footed adaptation of Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s kids’ book will pass for a good time. Those families probably need a shakeup even more than the one in the film.
A courtship prelude more depressing than the start of Pixar’s Up shows what Garner’s Allison was like before accepting society’s reproductive mandate. “I said yes to everything,” her narration boasts, as we watch flashbacks of her skydiving and navigating strange lands by herself. She’s like the star of a TV ad for a drug promising to rejuvenate the elderly, except that she’s about to give it all up voluntarily. She meets Carlos — Ramirez, whose fans might prefer a name that didn’t remind them of the dangerous, sexy movies he made before it came to this — who at first is her rock-climbing, hooky-playing “partner in ‘yes.'” Then they have three kids, and turn (Allison especially) into “no”-spouting worrywarts.
RELEASE DATE Mar 12, 2021
A decade and a half in, Allison realizes what she has wrought. Her fourteen year-old, Katie (Jenna Ortega), is openly contemptuous of her, and appears ready to revolt if she’s not allowed to attend a music festival without parental supervision; son Nando (Julian Lerner) just made a video project for school comparing his mom to Stalin. (Pipsqueak daughter Ellie, played by Everly Carganilla, mostly just echoes her siblings’ complaints in a cuter way.)
So at the suggestion of a teacher (Nat Faxon) whose parenting wisdom they have no reason to trust, Carlos and Allison decide to give the kids a Yes Day: With a few reasonable exceptions, the kids can decide everything the family will do for one whole day. Allison promises that, should she lose her nerve and say no to something, Katie can go to Fleek Fest with her friends alone. (Presumably in a time machine that travels back to the heyday of fleek.)
When the day arrives, Mom and Dad are confronted with a five-item itinerary whose bullet points will be revealed one by one. A viewer without access to Rosenthal’s book can pretty easily imagine how this stuff might’ve been delightful on the page — with colorful illustrations showing the Torres clan binging on a table-sized ice cream sundae, for instance, then wrecking their SUV’s upholstery by driving through a car wash with the windows down. But it lacks dramatic energy on the screen, and a long centerpiece devoted to a multi-team water balloon battle might prompt a Bob’s Burgers fan to hunt down an episode that puts Yes Day to shame. (It’s season 5, episode 21, by the way. But any five minutes picked at random from that show contain more laughs than all of this film, not to mention a vastly richer take on the demands of parenting.)
Along the way, the film is more sour than it probably means to be in its depiction of Allison and Carlos. He’s on the lookout for ways to ditch his family — you might be too, if hanging out with them involved this many whacks to the groin — and she can’t wait to make him the bad guy. The ugly energy between the two eventually leads to an implausible, desperate altercation involving a stuffed pink gorilla. A resulting detour to the hoosegow allows for a welcome appearance by Arturo Castro, who plays a gullible deputy.
By the end, of course, screenwriter Justin Malen contrives action that washes all this away, showing the kids how much they appreciate the limits their parents put on them. It’s parental wish-fulfillment that isn’t at all interested in what being a kid actually feels like. Don’t expect this pic to start a nationwide trend of Yes Days any more than 2011’s Hall Pass inspired a legion of wives to give their man-child husbands holidays from their wedding vows.
Production companies: Entertainment 360, Grey Matters Productions
Cast: Jennifer Garner, Edgar Ramirez, Jenna Ortega, Julian Lerner, Everly Carganilla, Arturo Castro, Fortune Feimster, Nat Faxon, Molly Sims
Director: Miguel Arteta
Screenwriter: Justin Malen
Producers: Lawrence Grey, Ben Everard, Daniel Rappaport, Nicole King Solaka, Jennifer Garner
Director of photography: Terry Stacey
Production designer: Doug J. Meerdink
Costume designer: Susie DeSanto
Editor: Jay Deuby
Composer: Michael Andrews
PG, 89 minutes
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