In 2008, Warner Bros. Pictures released the high concept comedy Yes Men starring Jim Carrey. The film focused on a character who says yes to everything no matter how absurd it might seem. However, the original screenplay changed considerably over time to make use of its star, various studio properties, and other interests. In this article, we will explore those changes and how they affected the film.
After attending a Yes Man seminar, closed off bank loan officer Carl Allen (Carrey) turns his dead end life around by saying yes to everything. However, Carl soon learns the drawbacks of saying yes to everything.
The Time Period
This film came at a transitional time period in American big studio comedy filmmaking. The old guard of comedians had grown out of their 30s and into older roles. Seth Rogen said in an interview that a lot of the comedies of the time were super silly and broad and starred actors like Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, and Ben Stiller.
Unlike the Rogen and Judd Apatow style comedies, this movie builds more around physical comedy set pieces where Carrey and co-star Zooey Deschenal get to show off their many talents. The film uses every opportunity to showcase Carrey’s talents as a physical comedian.
While Carrey is the star of the show here, his collaborators on the film would become known for other things. Director Peyton Reed would go on to direct the Ant-Man films. Bradley Cooper plays the voice of reason here, but would become a movie star after appearing in The Hangover (2009).
In 1994, Carrey became known for broad comedies like Ace Ventura, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber. In each of these movies, Carrey played a larger than life character. In the late 90s, Carrey became known for more dramatic fare such as The Truman Show (1998) and Man on the Moon (1999).
Carl Allen lands somewhere in the middle of these roles. Unlike a lot of Carrey’s previous roles, Carl acts more like a straight man that the audience shares its perspective with. A lot of his comedy comes from how Carrey reacts to outlandish chaos rather than being the outlandish chaos. However, when the character starts saying yes, Carrey also performs impressions and physical comedy bits that he became known for. The framing puts the audience largely on Carl’s side.
When this film came out, Roger Ebert unfavorably compared it to Carrey’s previous high concept film Liar Liar (1997). In that movie, a dishonest attorney could not lie about anything for a day due to a magical wish made by his son. Unlike that movie, the character in Yes Man cannot say “no” because of his fear of bad luck.
In the commentary for Liar Liar, director Tom Shadyac talks a lot about Carrey’s process and how Liar Liar worked. Having previously directed Carrey on Ace Ventura, Shadyac had a lot of insight into Carrey’s work. With Liar Liar, the challenge was to not be repetitive. While Carrey has a script, he will often plan out even more stuff on set and do longer bits that are not in scripts.
In Shadyac’s movies, he would cast actors that would ground Carrey. The supporting character’s reactions to Carrey mattered just as much as the actual things Carrey said. For example, Cary Elwes plays the role of the other guy as a more buttoned down character who Shadyac describes as “Gooberish.” Shadyac found that people often wanted to come and be funny with Carrey, whereas he believed the correct response was to play the role as real to ground Carrey’s manic energy.
Shadyac said that Carrey loves James Stewart. Yes Man has a sort of It’s a Wonderful Life feel to it in parts. At the end of the movie, Carrey’s character Carl has to rally all his friends together to throw a bridal shower. A much more dramatic version happens to Stewart in Wonderful Life.
In another part of the commentary, Shadyac mentions Carrey being inspired by Steve Martin to do comedy scenes differently. Carrey points to a scene in Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982), where Martin lights two ends of a cigarette and cuts it in half rather than just lighting two cigarettes. Early on in Yes Man, Carl’s friend Peter (Bradley Cooper) tells him that he will die as “a lonely guy,” which he repeats multiple times. Carrey then has a dream where he dies alone and his friends do not care. This inspires him to go to a “Yes Man” seminar. There is a similar scene with Martin in The Lonely Guy (1984), which also inspires Martin to take action.
Original Source Material
The film comes from a memoir by Danny Wallace, although it is loosely based on the book. Warner Bros acquired the book back in 2005. Wallace serves as an associate producer, appears briefly in the finished film, and made a small featurette for the film.
The screenplay for this film was originally written by Nicholas Stoller. He also directed Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which came out the same year.
With this project, Stoller rewrote an original screenplay by David Iserson. Stoller had previously co-written Carrey’s vehicle Fun with Dick and Jane (2005) with Judd Apatow. Stoller’s original script made The Blacklist, a survey of Hollywood’s favorite unproduced screenplays.
The story subsequently received a rewrite from Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel. Paul had previously played opposite of Carrey in Liar Liar, where he played a man with a zit on his nose. Here he appears as part of Zooey Deschanel’s jogging photography class.
The original screenplay presents the basic structure and characters of the finished film, but has a few key major differences from the final product. Much of the dialogue, characters, and story from the original still exist, but they get changed for either comedic or pacing reasons.
Since this is a high concept film (“a man says yes to everything”), the concept is important because it sells the film and drives the story. In Liar Liar’s commentary, Tom Shadyac talks about how a lot of changes were made to increase the pace of the storytelling. Many of the changes in Yes Man feel like they are for similar reasons.
In the original script, Carl (named Carl Kenndall here) meets Guru Sanji Gupta and starts saying yes because of him. In a later meeting, Sanji emphasizes that Carl cannot say no under any circumstances or he will lose everything. Over the course of the story, this premise serves as a clothesline for Carl’s antics and helps him change for the plan.
At the end of the second act, Carl feels trapped by saying yes and goes back to Sanji looking for advice. When Sanji offers him a new program with a new payment plan, Carl realizes that Sanji is a conman and decides to start taking control of his life.
The leader of the Yes Man program, Terrence (Terence Stamp) acts as sort of a guru to closed-off people. At the beginning of the story, he forces Carl Allen in a covenant to say yes to everything.
The film also has a more positive viewpoint of its eccecntric guru. At the end of the second act, Carl climbs into the back of Terrence’s car, causing Terrence to get into an accident. At the hospital, Terrence tells Carl that just saying yes is only the start of the program. Once a participant gets past a certain part, they start saying yes because they have to, but because they want to.
In this role, Stamp gets to make big speeches and act up a storm. He also gets the final joke before the credits.
The Hero’s Journey
The character of Carl is different from the lead of the finished film. Many of the basic story points exist in the original script, but get considerably changed in subsequent rewrites.
At the beginning of the story, Carl is a guy in his mid to late 30s who is about to break up with his Girlfriend Kath, who describes him as emotionless and robotic. When he learns the consequences of saying “yes” to everything, his friend Peter describes him as changing from “a passive guy who says no” to “a passive guy who says yes.” The screenplay also emphasizes Carl realizing that he has worked at his job for 10 years and has not really moved on.
As in the finished movie, Carl works at the bank as a savings and loans officer. Carl works his way up the ranks by saying yes to everything. However, this storyline gets more emphasis than in the original screenplay. The original Screenplay has Carl realizing that he has fallen in with multiple crooks, including his boss Chris Parker. Carl has to ultimately leave these situations because of how unhealthy they are. At the end of the story, Carl leaves the bank to start his own small loan office.
With Carrey in the lead, the screenplay changed dramatically. The role of Carl became an older man with an ex-wife rather than a soon to be ex-girlfriend.
At the beginning of the story, Carl is described as “dead” by Yes Man guru Terrence. His wife Stephanie (Molly Sims) left him long ago and has hooked up with a wealthier guy, Ted (Sean O’Bryan). At work, he has been passed over for a big promotion yes again. What gets him to go to this seminar is his fear of dying alone.
After saying yes to this new plan, Carl approves more loans than ever before, which leads him to a corporate promotion in the banking industry. However, Carl eventually learns that one of his responsibilities is shutting down his old bank.
Everything comes to a head when Carl gets into a situation where he can sleep with his ex-wife. Carl refuses, sending him into a tailspin. He contacts Terrence to reverse the covenant. After some comedic mishaps, Terrence tells him that eventually the program is about saying yes because one wants to rather than they want to. With that, Carl reconnects with Allison. Using all the people he gave loans to, Carl decides to call in some favors and forge a new path for himself.
The stakes slightly differ from script to screen. In the original, guru Sanji has one more scene where he tells Carl that he will lose all the progress he has made if he says no to anything.
In the finished film, Terrence does the same, but Carl says to everything because he fears that he will have bad luck if he says no to anything. This happens because of a mishap that causes him to nearly get attacked by a dog after refusing a blowjob from his elderly neighborhood. In the low point of the third act, Carl runs into a car after seeing a black cat cross his path.
The Love Interest
The love interest stays pretty similar from the screenplay with a few noticeable changes along the way. The original’s Renee has a few more hobbies and goals than the finished film’s love interest of Allison.
In the original screenplay, Carl meets Renee when she is handing out flyers to see her band The Flying Buttresses. She plays the harp, drives an ancient Volvo, and leads a jogging photography class. At the beginning of the story, Carl has passed her for a year before finally taking a flyer. In the original film, she is more of a hippy earth mother type.
The finished film emphasizes physical adventures. In the original screenplay, Renee takes Carl on more adventures, such as eating Korean food. Carl also lies to her in this version rather than just concealing that he says yes to everything.
The original screenplay has Renee serve as more of a goal for Carl to reach for. The film goes through the rough beats of her learning about his covenant to say “yes,” but a lot of what is changed is how the film goes about this. Renee plans to travel around the world. At the end of the story, Carl flies off to Bangkok and meets Renee.
Carl meets Allison (Zooey Deschanel), a free spirit that allows him to turn his life around. However, everything goes sour when Allison learns that he must say “yes” to everything and leaves him. Now he must find a way to win her back.
Allison begins the story as a free spirit that Carl meets when he is stranded. A picture taking jogger and musician, Allison rides a moped around. In this version, her band is named Munchhausen by Proxy.
After they take a trip to Lincoln, Nebraska, Allison learns of Carl’s ways when two FBI agents confront him about all his suspicious activity. When Allison learns of his covenant to say yes to everything, Allison acts as a passive antagonist. Her main function in the third act is to repel Carl until he wins her over again. This sequence is much longer and more detailed than the original screenplay.
The daughter of six-time Oscar nominated cinematographer Caleb Deschanel and actress Mary Jo Deschanel, Zooey Deschanel began her career playing supporting roles in many different movies.
In an interview with Dinner for Five, Deschanel described how a lot of early career began with “hand me down” roles. For example, her role in Almost Famous (2000) came about because Sarah Polley was supposed to play Kate Hudson’s part and Kate Hudson was supposed to play Deschanel’s part. When Polly left the project, Cameron Crowe cast Hudson in that part and put Deschanel in her original role.
In recent years, Deschanel has appeared less in movies, with her main roles being in the Trolls franchise. Three years after the movie came out, Deschanel starred in the TV show New Girl (2011-2018), for which she received an Emmy nomination. Right now, Deschanel co-hosts The Dating Game (2021 -) with Michael Bolton.
“The Manic Pixie Dream Girl”
In 2007, AV Club critic Nathan Rabin coined the term Manic Pixie Dream Girl to describe quirky female characters written to help uptight male characters realize their full potential. Rabin’s contention was that these characters had no inner life. Rabin later regretted coining the term because of the life it took in.
Deschanel became linked to this archetype because she also starred in (500) Days of Summer (2009), which focuses on how a man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) perceives a woman. That movie has the lead character ultimately not getting together with the character at the end. In this film, she plays a similar role, but the film sees her transform the main character.
In both versions of this story, Carl has gotten out of a relationship with a woman with a shortened name. The film simplifies this in the final version.
In the opening scene, Kath breaks up with Carl, who glibly accepts it. Kath wants some sort of reaction from him. In this version, she is also part of Carl’s friends group. They sit around and discuss real estate a lot. This is largely jettisoned and simplified in the film version.
Later on, Kath dates a Swedish man named Seb, who Carl meets on the street. Seb also becomes part of their friends group.
One deleted bit from the script has Carl going on a date with Kath and Seb, where he gets drunk before going to party with Rooney. He then gets up early the next morning to go jogging with Allison, where he collapses due to fatigue. The film simplifies this to him getting a call from Rooney to go drinking. Kath largely disappears after this point in the story.
In the second scene of the movie, the audience meets Steph hooking up with her new boyfriend, Ted. The original script’s Seb is a handsome tall Swede. In the finished film, Ted is more of a trust fund baby. When Steph notices Carl, she comes over to him. Carl does not call her later, but she rejects him soundly. She also seems pretty separated from Carl’s friend group.
Steph begins to come around to Carl when she sees him save a man (Luis Guzman) from jumping. When Ted and her break up, she tries to get back together with Carl and have sex with him. He rejects her, despite his pledge.
The Supporting Cast
This film has a large supporting cast that serves many purposes. The screenplay uses these characters differently than the completed film.
In the writing process, the film went through a large change based on the antagonist. The original’s screenplay has more of a central antagonist, while the finished film has many antagonists.
In the original screenplay, the main antagonist is the president of Southwest Bank, Chris Parker. A former felon, Parker appears early in the movie, when Carl is a lowly bank clerk. Later on, Chris reveals that he has spent time in prison and promotes Carl to VP because he has been arrested for drug smuggling at the airport, which makes Chris trust him even more.
In this story, Chris largely drives the plot. After seeing all the effective practices that Carl has implemented, Chris promotes him. In a dropped sequence, Carl goes golfing with Chris. He makes Carl fire Norm. At the end, Carl revolts against Chris by telling a Korean banker horrible things about Chris. After the incident, Carl decides to quit.
The finished film has a few antagonists. Each drives as a different plot thread in the story. Throughout the first act, Carl’s friend Nick serves as an antagonist. Terrence also serves as a rather mild antagonist. In her own antagonistic role, Allison sets the stakes for the end of the movie.
The character of Chris Parker becomes a higher up named Wesley T. Parker (Rocky Carroll). Wes has a smaller role in the story in that he simply promotes Carl and then makes him shut down branches. He does call Carl from a country club to tell him that they are doing this.
In this film, Carl has quite a few male friends that serve various purposes in the story. They change in varying degrees from the original script, depending on how comedic they are.
An old friend and former co-worker, Nick Lane (John Michael Higgins) comes back into Carl’s life to tell him about the Yes Man program. He serves as an antagonist and foil for Carl at the beginning of the story.
In the original screenplay, Nick is a character named Alex Eberts, who the script describes as “an oddly hyper guy.” He knows both Carl and Carl’s old boss, Norman. He appears for one scene where he tells Carl about the Yes Man program before smashing a window and running away. The script makes him more of a catalyst than an antagonist.
In the finished film, Nick acts as the primary antagonist of the first act before disappearing from the rest of the movie. In this version of the story, Nick acts less as a catalyst and more as an aggressive cheerleader who wills Carl on and tells him what situations to get into. After talking Carl into driving a homeless man to Elysian Park, Nick does not appear again.
Carl’s best friend and lawyer Peter (Bradley Cooper) serves as the voice of reason to help guide Carl through. About to get married to Lucy (Sasha Alexander), Peter has moved on with his life, while Carl has receded into misery. When Carl misses his engagement party, Peter tells him that he does not see a reason to be friends with him anymore.
These characters change the least throughout the story. Peter still begins the film disappointed in Carl and wanting him to change. After learning about Carl’s new mission in life, Peter decides to use it to have his friend help him out and throw his fiancee a bridal shower. At the end there is a big party for Lucy that Carl has put together on short notice.
A lot of what changes is the details. The original script goes more into what they do (Lucy is a real estate broker, Peter is a lawyer). They know Peter’s ex better in the original version. There is also more profanity from them (Lucy says her friends are being “bitches” for not throwing her a bridal shower). However, the intention largely remains the same.
Another friend, Rooney (Danny Masterson), acts as comic relief for most of the film. The film portrays him as a mooch. After learning of Carl’s new mission, he decides to take advantage of Carl in every way possible. He also asks Carl to move in with him.
Throughout the movie, Rooney seems interested in alcohol and women. The original screenplay has him living with his mom. When Carl agrees to everything, Rooney uses this as an opportunity to move into Carl’s place. Carl kicks him out. After that, Rooney decides to hook up with Farinoush, a woman Carl met on a Persian Wife finder website.
The final film has Rooney do many of the things the original screenplay does. For example, he does move in with Carl, but it is covered. Instead of getting together with Farinoush, Rooney hooks up with Tillie (Fionnula Flanagan), an Irish woman who gave Carl a blowjob that he could not refuse earlier. At the end of the story, Rooney tries to get with a nurse who he believes is checking him out.
Masterson became known on That ‘70s Show (1998-2006). As an actor, he has mostly appeared in comedy movies and TV shows. This remains one of his most prominent roles in a high budget film.
In recent years, Masterson has had multiple rape allegations against him from women. His show The Ranch (2016-2020) let him go in 2017 and the United Talent Agency dropped him.
Carl’s nerdy boss Norman (Rhys Darby) plays a pivotal role in Carl’s story. The original Screenplay’s Norman has a story that plays out differently in the final film.
The original screenplay pretty much has the same set up and arc. Norman starts out as Carl’s nerdy boss. Eventually Carl gets promoted over him and has to fire him because of his boss’s orders.
The screenplay has many of the similar beats with Norm. For example, Carl still goes to one of his parties with his girlfriend, Renee. However, there is less pop culture stuff and brand recognition in this version. He also dresses as the character Hiro from Heroes (2006-2010).
At the end, Norman works for Carl at his own Savings and Loan office after being fired. This is not in the final film.
Carl’s nerdy boss, Norman, has all the enthusiasm for his job that Carl lacks. At the beginning of the story, Carl feels annoyed by his boss and wants as little to do with him as possible. Overtime, Carl will warm up to Norman and even help him find a new love.
As a character, Norman is fairly grounded, but also quite broad. There is a whole sequence where Carl agrees to go to Norman’s party and then makes faces across the office at him. Norman performs his own wacky antics from across the office. It ends with Carl taping up his face. According to actor Rhys Darby, they filmed Carrey’s part first and then had Darby react to it.
One major departure from the script has Norman fall for a Korean wedding planner, Soo-Mi (Vivian Bang). In the original script, this character is unnamed and does not have a backstory. The finished film makes her lovelorn and has Carl play matchmaker in their relationship.
References and Costumes
At the beginning, Carl refuses to go to Norman’s parties. When Carl agrees to go, Norman always dresses as a character from another popular movie of the time. The first time he appears as Ron Weasley from Harry Potter. He also dresses up like Leonidas from 300 (2007). Both properties are owned by Warner Bros.
As part of Advertising, Norman also brings up Costco as this great place where he can purchase anything in bulk for discount prices. Allison asks Norman, “can’t anybody get those cards?” He responds that he does not think so, but that he will put in a good word for them.
Unlike the original screenplay, the film’s tone is much more light and cheerful. The screenplay presents many more of the little inconveniences of such a situation. The film sees more positives in saying “yes” to everything than the screenplay does.
The original screenplay has a much more cynical tone. Carl literally sleeps with the girlfriend of a guy he gets into a fight with, only to have her leave him to go back to the guy. The film’s version merely has the characters getting beaten up. Carl also has a homosexual encounter that he cannot turn down. Unlike the finished film, Carl realizes that the guru offering “yes” as the ultimate word of advice is a conman. The power of “yes” is ultimately a useful sham that helps Carl move on with his life. The film has a much more positive outlook on saying yes to everything.
The original screenplay has some product placement in it, but it differs from the movie. For example, Carl watches a lot of TV shows in the original screenplay. The movie changes this to Carl watching movies. The screenplay also has Peter talking about the store Crate and Barrel with a spiel similar to the Costco scene in the finished film.
Unlike the Stoller screenplay, the film primarily functions as a light comedy. For the most part, almost everything that happens to Carl by saying “yes” to everything is good or benign. Most of the people he encounters are not harmful or sinister as much as they are self-interested. It taps into the aspirational version of this story rather than a more biting version.
This film takes place very firmly in 2008. Almost every cast member and reference has something to do with what was popular at the time. This includes everything from products to movies to tech. The movie itself opens in a Blockbuster full of Warner Bros. releases. The movie even has an insert shot to the first Transformers movie from the year before.
The film also incorporates various ads into the story that it disguises as jokes. Since Carl says yes to everything, he decides to buy a Tempur-Pedic bed and recreate the ad by jumping around on it with a wine glass that will not spill. Similarly, another gag has Carl drinking a whole bunch of red bull and crashing hard. Carl makes sure to mention the name of the energy drink throughout the scene until the way he says the joke becomes a joke in of itself.
The Set Pieces
The original screenplay has very few of the set pieces that exist in the final film. At least not in the visualized setup and punchline style that the final film has. Many of the scenes play out more through dialogue and montages rather than the big setpieces at the end.
In the original screenplay, many of the set pieces exist, but in a much different form. The jogging photography class of the finished film exists without a Red Bull advertisement. The finished film emphasizes them a little more. The script’s version presents them as a series of events extrapolated from Carl saying yes to everything. Many of these types of scenes also have more dialogue in them.
In a behind the scenes documentary, director Peyton Reed says that Carrey literally throws himself into the movie. Carrey literally broke three ribs doing a pratfall with a waitress. In an interview, Carrey said that this happened because he changed the plan of how he would do the stunt. He also bungee jumped off a bridge for this movie. Multiple cameras captured the scene. According to Reed and Carrey, Carrey suggested riding a Ducati for the final act.
The set pieces served as a big selling point for the film. Interviewers talked to Carrey about everything from a rollerskating body suit to skydiving to him learning to play guitar. There was even a featurette called “Extreme Yes Man” detailing all of these set pieces.
Yes Man takes place firmly in the time period of 2008. The references, tech, product placement, and characters exist in that time period. A light breezy comedy that showcases Carrey as a performer, it also showcases a wide range of stunts on a 70 million dollar budget.