Movie Review: “Yes Day”

We have all heard the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover,” and yet it is something many of us do, at least on occasion. Who amongst us hasn’t seen a poster or a trailer or a TV commercial advertising a movie and decided whether or not we would see the thing based solely upon that limited bit of information? The whole point of advertising is to have us judge a book by its cover. And yet, it’s still a mistake.

The poster for the movie “Yes Day,” which is opening on Netflix this week, depicts a family—mom, Allison (Jennifer Garner); dad, Carlos (Edgar Ramírez); and kids, Katie (Jenna Ortega), Nando (Julian Lerner), and Ellie (Everly Carganilla)—throwing water-filled balloons (within the narrative, technically, it’s Kool-Aid). It offers the tagline, “For 24 hours, kids make the rules.” The brief synopsis of the film speaks of a story about parents who, worried they say “no” too much, allow their kids to make the rules for what the family does for a day. The entire idea being advertised here is that we will get a bunch of shenanigans authored by a teen, a tween, and a younger one.

In my house—and one imagines many others—this is an off-putting idea. Even if, as in the film, a base set of rules are established (there’s a limit on distance traveled, money spent, legality, etc.), it seems like asking for trouble. Consequently, many parents (and therefore families) might shy away from the movie. Who wants to show their kids a film which is going to suggest to those kids that they ask to do something that is going to hurt everyone?

Parents who make that judgment, who pass on this film because of it, are making a mistake. The advertising is completely misleading. It isn’t that “Yes Day” is a brilliant movie, it’s that the kids in it wind up learning why exactly their parents say “no” to stuff, why exactly their parents have to set boundaries, why exactly kids can’t run around doing whatever they want whenever they want. Children may still ask for such a day after watching the movie, but it’s easy enough for parents to point out the basic problems with the idea using examples from the film.

Directed by Miguel Arteta with a screenplay from Justin Malen (based on the book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld), “Yes Day,” whatever the advertising might imply, is just a fun family film, one with a lesson attached at the end. It is about these parents and their kids and the troubles that they have. These troubles may come to a head on this particular day, but they’ve been building for quite a while. For instance, there’s the 14-year-old who wants to go to a concert without her parents and the middle child who is having trouble in school. Those aren’t characteristics of such a day, but rather every day life. Allison and Carlos feel like they’re constantly clamping down on stuff, although for Carlos that’s more at his work as he leaves Allison to do the heavy-lifting of “no” at home. This, too, is just an every day issue. Not unimportant, but not borne of “yes day.”

The movie is successful because Arteta manages to keep the thing relatively light, even when members of the family are having their darkest moments. There is always another laugh (even if it’s a small one) right around the corner and always a new bit of insanity as well. As the movie approaches its climax the stakes do rise, but never in a way to suggest that the kids (and maybe the parents) won’t learn a “very valuable lesson” when they’re safe and sound at the end.

Garner and Ramírez are a winning pair throughout, playing off each other beautifully and really making the group feel like a family. Ortega is good as well, but feels miscast playing a 14-year-old. The movie can get away with the storyline of her wanting to attend the concert because she looks 16 or 17 – if she looked the 14 she’s playing, the entire notion would seem ludicrous.

Nat Faxon, Molly Sims, Arturo Castro, and Fortune Feimster all appear as well (Faxon the most often), and make the entire thing feel more complete. They are all relatively simply drawn individuals, but each will make the audience chuckle. H.E.R. puts in an appearance as well, playing herself (H.E.R.self?) or a version thereof. This last feels like a synergistic opportunity for a song release more than a required bit of story, but one can’t fault H.E.R. for signing on.

If the last few paragraphs sound a little tepid it is only because “Yes Day” is not a movie that sets out to shock or surprise or rewrite any rules of comedy or anything else. It just is. It is an airy movie full of bubbly songs and bright colors and oh so much mirth. This is a movie that manages to get away with the kids lying to dozens of people in order to get them to go along with the shenanigans even though that has to violate some basic tenet of the day. The parents are unconcerned by these lies, and by the time the film ends it is all but forgotten by the audience as well. It ought to be an issue, but it doesn’t really matter.

I mean no slight here. “Yes Day” is hugely successful at what it does. The entire cast is charming and there are several laughs along the way. It absolutely convinces me that any “yes day” in my own house (apparently it’s a thing that people do and a cursory bit of research suggests that this rises from the book on which the movie is based) would have to have far more rules than those we see here, but I will absolutely say “yes” to turning the movie on again if my kids want to watch it once more.

Choosing to watch this movie is an easy “yes.” Let kids get sucked in by the false advertising as parents hem and haw about how maybe they shouldn’t be watching it, maybe it’s a bad idea. Perhaps the kids will learn something about baking soda volcanoes, brain freeze, and responsibility. After all, no matter what the poster shows, that’s the point of the movie.

photo credit: Netflix

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