According to a recent Vanity Fair profile, Netflix film chief Scott Stuber calls Yes Day a “tonic for the moment.” But this tonic has no discernible taste, lacking the flavours of fun and funniness. Miguel Arteta specialises in making adult-oriented comedies, such as Duck Butter and Beatriz at Dinner, however this isn’t his first rodeo in the family film genre.
His previous effort in this space, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, was a nice surprise. A high-octane craic centred on a family’s misadventures over a single day, it was boosted by appealing performances from an ensemble that counted Steve Carrell and Jennifer Garner. Despite reuniting with the same leading actress who brought joy the first time around – and an equally madcap premise – this film exposes the director’s over-reliance on his performers.
The Alias star plays a mom of three who always tells her kids “no”. Out of touch with her adventurous young self, the matriarch’s local reputation is threatened when her son makes a video that paints her in a vicious light and presents it to the PTA committee. Meanwhile, her cool husband (Édgar Ramírez in his most unusual role) gets all the love in the house. Realising the uneven dynamic, the pair take on a colleague’s suggestion to have a “Yes Day”, in which the children can suggest any activity they want for a 24-hour period and the parents must agree to every request.
Garner and Ramírez bring the goods – the latter especially stands out for making a meal out of a totally atypical role. Within his filmography, the choice of playing an amiable suburban father stands out as unusual. Perhaps he just wanted to do something light after serious-minded fare such as The Undoing; that much is evident as the cast experience the thrill of roller-coaster rides and water balloon fights in the woods, basking in the peace of low-stakes storytelling. Every moment on set is clearly a happy one, free of ego and conflict.
But watching actors enjoy a paid vacation inspires a detached response rather than a vicarious one. It’s inspired by real-life: reportedly, Garner’s actual version with her own kids has involved similar scenarios such as dessert for breakfast, front-seat car rides and spending the day in wacky costumes. Let this be a note to studios that the anecdotal humour of a likeable actor’s Instagram posts does not translate well to scripted fiction.
Yes Day is released on Netflix on 12th March 2021.
Watch the trailer for Yes Day here: