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‘Yes Day’ Review: A Forced But Fun Family Comedy

Dir. Miguel Arteta — 2.5 Stars

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If kids had it their way, parents would never say “no” — they would eat ice cream for breakfast, and would always be allowed to party with friends. “Yes Day” explores what happens when preteens acquire every wish their heart desires: For 24 hours, parents Allison and Carlos Torres (Jennifer Garner and Édgar Ramírez) must say “yes” to all of their three children’s requests. Even as the film tries to mix up the goofy, good-natured family comedy movie genre with a unique premise and a Hispanic household,“Yes Day” is ultimately unimpactful. The movie prioritizes breadth over depth, relying on the allure of its premise to breathe life into otherwise flat characters.

After parenthood has forced Allison and Carlos to renounce fun and enforce house rules, they finally agree to a “yes day” in hopes it’ll be an outlet for their childrens’ frustrations. Their kids are, of course, ecstatic: Ellie (Everly Carganilla) wants to jump on the bed, Nando (Julian Lerner) wants to cover the house in pink foam, and Katie (Jenna Ortega) wants to go to a music festival with her friends — without her mom by her side.

What follows is the promise of relatives struggling to realize the value of family over the course of their single intriguing “yes day,” but the movie's reality doesn’t live up to its own potential. The Torres’s are still populated with typical American movie tropes, from the soccer mom to the sulky teenager, and while “Yes Day” tries to subvert these tropes with each character’s arc into maturity, it just comes across as forced. Take Allison fighting a fellow carnival-game-player for a stuffed pink gorilla. In this scene, the mom smiles a little too sarcastically. As a result, the Torres’ family gradual learning curve isn’t gratifying; instead, the characters in “Yes Day” feel predictable and all-too-familiar.

Still, “Yes Day” tries to offer a fresh perspective by portraying a Hispanic household rather than the white families characteristic of most Hollywood family comedy movies. But because the filmmakers don’t nuance the main characters, ethnicity only ever feels like a surface-level element to the film. Carlos, who is Hispanic, has a thick accent and occasionally bursts into Spanish when demanding a clean house or reprimanding Katie for being mean to her mother. But even in the Torres family, Spanish does little to enhance the characters’ relationships to each other. In reality, the spontaneous switching to Spanish in their interactions is distracting, unrealistic, and cringy. Allison guilting Carlos into continuing their “yes day” with poorly-pronounced amateur Spanish is supposed to be touching, but only serves as a reminder that the Torres family is, indeed, Hispanic.

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Where the film shines is with director Miguel Artata, who draws on his previous experience with family comedy movies to make “Yes Day” a lighthearted and well-paced 89 minutes. From the beginning of the movie, which opens with young Allison cannonballing into a river, the visuals help replicate the feel of childhood. Subtly saturated and rosy, the film is filled with summer colors that invoke nostalgia for hot and lethargic days. The frequent use of montage — from ice-cream eating to water balloon fighting to screaming in the car wash — mimics the blur of a fun summer day. Even the music helps keep the momentum of cheeriness: The Gummy Bear Song and “The Best Day of My Life” pop up on the radio, and even H.E.R. makes an appearance at the music festival. The effort to make “Yes Day” a movie that can be sung along to is certainly successful.

“Yes Day” is an easy-to-digest film. It’s not meant to reset American culture or revolutionize the family comedy genre, but it is an okay movie to put on after family dinner. It’s a movie that doesn’t ask for much focus to follow the plot, populated with typical characters who struggle to appreciate the family around them. “Yes Day” is ultimately a cute concept that culminates in lukewarm entertainment, even as the film fails to offer dynamic, surprising, and interesting characters in the Torres Family.

— Penelope M. Alegria can be reached at penelope.alegria@thecrimson.com.

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