For better or worse, Yes Day is essentially what you expect it to be: a sweet, sitcom-styled family comedy.
The new Netflix family comedy Yes Day inspires a lot of questions. How did Miguel Arteta, director of such relatively edgy indie fare as Star Maps, Chuck & Buck, and The Good Girl, find himself here, helming what is essentially a glorified sitcom? Also, what kind of blackmail does Netflix have on Carlos star Édgar Ramírez? And most confounding, what the hell is a Yes Day? As a single individual with no children, a little research was required for this last one, but it turns out that Yes Days are indeed a real thing, a trend that took hold a couple of years ago in which parents reward their kids by allowing them a day in which they say yes to everything— within reason and rules, of course. Based on a 40-page illustrated children’s book written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, the Yes Day tunes into the photogenic Torres family, headed by Carlos and Allison (Ramírez and Jennifer Garner, respectively), parents who are engendering all sorts of familial strife due to mom’s incessant use of that most hated of words: “no.” Things weren’t always like this, though; a brief prologue reveals that Allison was once a carefree thrill-seeker who relished every new adventure thrown her way, including future husband Carlos. It was only after the arrival of three children that Allison changed her ways, becoming overprotective to the point of being compared to both Stalin and Mussolini in her son’s school video project. Harsh. Dad, meanwhile, always fills the role of good cop, leaving mom alone in her bad guy status. A Yes Day, then, proves the perfect opportunity for mom to finally appear cool to her kids, something she especially craves when it comes to teenage daughter Katie (Jenna Ortega), and so one is soon enacted, bringing with it lessons in responsibility and trust as the Torres clan indulges one wacky adventure after another. It is all very schematic by design, as one comedic set piece after another leads to each family member learning that an equal balance of “yes” and “no” is necessary to retain a necessary level of stasis in life and love.
Thanks to a game cast, all this soft edification goes down easily enough, with Garner once again proving she’s one of the most likable actresses working, excelling most when the script calls for ultimate dorkiness. But it’s Ramírez who proves the real surprise, finally given the opportunity to (temporarily) divest of the “serious thespian” label and get down and dirty with family-facing comedy, showing off some admirable low-brow chops in the process. Twerking, farting, getting hit in the balls, screaming like a little girl while being attacked by birds — he does it all, throwing vanity to the wind. Arteta does his part to add some welcome and weird digressions here and there, whether it be filling supporting roles with such distinct comedic voices as Nat Faxon, Fortune Feimster, and Arturo Castro, or staging a game of Capture the Flag to resemble Apocalypse Now; the line, “I love the smell of Kool-Aid in the morning” is an especially nice touch. More seriously, it’s nice to see a multicultural family represented in a mainstream film where both English and Spanish are spoken in equal measure. Most seriously, there’s also a certain thrill in watching Garner gleefully and violently pelt her kids with water balloons, and no doubt a fair number of parents will find sinister glee in vicariously living out their darkest fantasies. Yes Day doesn’t really amount to much, but works well enough according to its small pleasures. As an ode to familial love, it hits a certain, innocent sweet spot where both kids and parents alike won’t mind spending 85 minutes in its company. It’s hard to say “no” to that.
You can currently stream Miguel Arteta’s Yes Day on Netflix.