A pair of strict parents who find themselves always telling their three children “no” decide to give them a 24-hour reprieve where anything goes in Yes Day, a generally pleasant if aimless new Netflix comedy directed by Miguel Arteta.
Jennifer Garner and Edgar Ramírez star as mom Allison and dad Carlos in Yes Day, who learn what their children really think of them when a pair of teachers reveal a video made by son Nando (Julian Lerner) that compares mom to Stalin and Mussolini. Hey, props to the 10-year-old for being up on his European history, and avoiding the expected cliché.
Once an adventurous young couple before parenthood, Allison and Carlos don’t appreciate being seen as killjoys in the eyes of their children.
But school guidance counselor Mr. Deacon (Nat Faxon) gives them an unusual technique that has worked for his six kids: as long as they behave for the rest of the time, one day out of each month is a “yes day” where the parents give in to any (reasonable) desire the children might throw at them.
There are some ground rules to be set: nothing illegal, no travelling outside a 20-mile radius, and so on. But once mom and dad agree on the experiment, the kids – middle child Nando along with teen sister Katie (Jenna Ortega) and young sister Ellie (Everly Carganilla) are all on board as they mark off the calendar awaiting the titular Yes Day.
And then the film turns into something like the Jim Carrey vehicle Yes Man, or perhaps a family-friendly spin on The Purge, as the mom and dad give in to each one of their kids’ requests over a single day.
Yes Day is a fun and innocuous little family film, but as we run through the kids’ “five big asks” we slowly begin to realize there’s no real conflict or story tension here. It’s fun seeing Ramírez’s father try to wolf down a bottomless bowl of ice cream, or Garner’s mom open her car windows through a car wash, but there’s no deeper narrative throughout the movie than watching these two slowly reach their limit.
Case in point: a ten-minute capture-the-flag / water-balloon-fight sequence involving the family and a large cast of extras in which there’s nothing at stake: no prize for the winner, no shame in losing. It’s all about seeing Garner’s mom cut loose for once, but the point is quickly made and then lost amid an inconsequential event that looks fun for the participants but grows tiresome for the audience.
There are the bare strands of conflict plucked out during Yes Day’s final act – Ortega’s older daughter accurately identifies that the “yes day” is only a temporary distraction to keep the kids in line for the rest of the time – but those concerns are quickly brushed aside for a unrealistically happy ending.
Still, Yes Day is a bright and diverting little comedy that never turns sour, and Garner and Ramírez bring the perfect level of invested mom and dad energy to the project. Director Miguel Arteta has made far better films (Chuck & Buck, The Good Girl) but this is no stain on his resume, and a slick piece of Netflix family entertainment.
For audiences seeking an uncomplicated diversion, Yes Day is perfect family fare more than likely to bring a smile to your face, if not much more.