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'Yes Day' Review: A positive spin on parent-kid relationships

Jennifer Garner and Edgar Ramirez are surprisingly comfortable on screen as two risk-averse parents who agree to take the lead from their children for 24 hours.

in 'Yes Day,' Edgar Ramirez and Jennifer Garner play parents who reluctantly agree to say yes for 24 hours to any and all plans made by their three kids.
(Image: © Netflix)

Our Verdict

This adaptation of Amy Krouse Rosenthal's book can't narrow its focus between uptight parents and the kids ready to let loose to nail down who its lessons are meant for.

For

  • 👍🏻 Edgar Ramirez is surprisingly comfortable in this uncommonly wholesome story, throwing himself into its silly hijinks.
  • 👍🏻 Whether or not a 'Yes Day' is for all families, this one seems to have a whole lot of fun for others to safely replicate.

Against

  • 👍🏻 The oldest daughter Katie's walk on the wild side is almost comically tame for her to so completely acquiesce to her mom's rule.
  • 👍🏻 Director Arteta seems to lack the connection or enthusiasm to make this material as interesting as it could be.

Looking at Miguel Arteta’s name in the credits of Yes Day, an effervescent new comedy premiering on Netflix, it’s easy to forget that he once directed an adaptation of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day; the director of transgressive films like Chuck & Buck and Duck Butter hasn’t helmed a lot of family entertainment before, but at least his prior credit includes pedigreed children’s literature. Arteta’s new one is based on the book of the same name by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, and reunites him with Alexander actress Jennifer Garner, but where the previous film much more clearly staged its action from the perspective of the eponymous kid, this one shifts its focus more to the parents, creating an unwieldy balance between reasonable grownup concerns and puerile hijinks. Starring opposite a surprisingly comfortable Edgar Ramirez, who like his director does not typically gravitate to such effervescent fare, Garner supplies earnest commitment in this adventure for a family to find common ground over the course of one reckless, rule-filled day.

Garner and Ramirez play Allison and Carlos Torres, a wife and husband who met as carefree adventurers before the responsibilities of parenting hammered them into embracing a strategy of risk-aversion in all things. At work, Carlos spends his days hectoring coworkers as a lawyer who specializes in compliance, so when he comes home he tends to let Allison tell their three kids Katie (Jenna Ortega), Nando (Julian Lerner) and Ellie (Everly Carganilla) what they can — and mostly can’t — do. But after a parent-teacher conference reveals that the kids have turned their school assignments into missives complaining about how their mom’s a monster, Allison takes a suggestion from a guidance counselor (Nat Faxon) to have a “yes day,” where inside certain parameters the kids call the shots and she and Carlos agree to go along for the ride.

The day starts innocently enough, with glitter-covered makeovers from Ellie and an ice-cream eating contest suggested by Nando. But when Carlos tries to cut out early to tackle a work emergency, Allison throws the rules out the window and offers to take the kids to Magic Mountain, hoping that the prospect of an unforgettable day at a theme park will entice him to stick to the plan. Unfortunately, she snoops through Katie’s phone in between rides, prompting a big fight that ends with Allison and Carlos going to jail over ownership of a stuffed animal and the kids taking it upon themselves to complete their Yes Day fantasies of their own. Before long, all three kids begin to realize that their parents’ guidance is more helpful than harmful, while Allison and Carlos must confront the limits of their own permissiveness in order to wrap the day without irreparable disaster.

Never having read Rosenthal’s book, I don’t know how boldly its lessons were drawn for parent and child alike, but a script by Justin Malen overstates them almost without exception, forcing Garner and Ramirez in particular to spell out each situational or emotional dilemma until the audience shouts “we get it!” That may of course just be a cornerstone of “family entertainment,” providing lines so clear to enlightenment or change that everyone from five to 95 can see them, but it’s got to kill the adult actors — who to be fair are dealing with some very reasonable concerns, including what limits to draw with kids, and how to maintain your sense of identity after becoming parents, but every scene becomes a protracted referendum on these ideas that could be dramatized more effectively without needing explicit dialogue.

With respect to the versatility she doesn’t get to display nearly often enough, a role like this feels like an easy bullseye for Garner, a good if overprotective mom who gets vilified by her kids until a shakeup in her manicured routine reminds her who she used to be before she started saying “no” so much. Although he’s rarely done anything this family-friendly, Ramirez seems unexpectedly comfortable as Garner’s parental counterpart; that said, he also seems most at home when performing Faith No More’s “Epic” with his on screen daughter while he drives her to school. But if Ortega’s adult odyssey at a music festival as Katie is almost comically tame to reduce her to tears in time for a last minute mother-daughter reconciliation, the movie populates its supporting cast with a revolving door of character actors, including Faxon, Leonardo Nam, Hayden Szeto, Arturo Castro and Molly Sims in roles that, again, indicate this is more a film for moms and dads who need to re-learn to cut loose than kids who need to respect their authority.

The fact that so much of the comedy involves sophomoric stunts and crude physical humor further creates a divide between those intriguing moments of parental reflection and the appropriately pint-sized boundaries of the children’s choices, although that capture the flag game played with water balloons seems like a lot of fun. But most of the takeaways for any age group feel like things that those targeted viewers should already know, or have learned from fare that’s a little more sophisticated. Meanwhile, after his second outing with family-friendly entertainment, Arteta shows as much aptitude behind the camera as he has on his other, seemingly more personal projects, but less interest in the fringes and ambiguities of these relationships that could be just as interesting, if someone decided to portray them with a greater degree of subtlety. Ultimately, Yes Day has moments of fun, but it’s a little bit like an ice cream sundae that you have to finish even though it’s way too big: if an ice cream headache doesn’t knock you out early, it’s so sweet and indulgent that you’ll have a stomach ache at the end.