Yes Day

The family all dressed up

Yes Day not only stars Jennifer Garner but it’s produced by her. It’s her film. It’s another of those goofy family comedies that seem to be her default, the sort of film she returns to when she fancies some more of the 13 Going On 30 action – pop culture-y, adults doing kid stuff, silly, sentimental, a touch magical.

It wastes no time getting its offer onto the screen. By 15 minutes in we’ve met Allison (Garner) and Carlos (Edgar Ramirez), two life-affirming novelty-accepting “Yes” people who have got married and discovered that parenting is more about saying “No” – don’t stick your fingers in that socket etc – to the point that their three smart kids (Jenna Ortega, Julian Lerner, Everly Carganilla) are getting antsy and their teachers have become concerned.

A fix comes in the shape of Mr Deacon (Nat Faxon), one of those magical movie creations who waves a magic wand and changes everything, the wand here being the suggestion that the parents have a Yes Day – agree, with ground rules, to everything their kids want. The parents, chastened after a tough parent teacher evening, decide to give it a go. And off we venture, essentially leaving reality behind and entering “only in the movies” territory.

Yes Day is based on a meagre 40-page picture book aimed at the very young. It’s tempting to imagine an early script meeting in which screenplay writer Justin Malen reeled off the setup at speed and was then asked “and then what happens…?” by one of the suits, possibly Garner herself. “Oh, you know… shenanigans… antics… etcetera…” Which is pretty much what the rest of Yes Day consists of – the parents doing daffy things with their kids and the kids thinking it’s all great. Bouncing on the bed, dressing up ridiculously, taking a gigantic ice-cream-eating challenge, signing up for auditions for a TV reality show, going to a funfair and going on the most terrifying ride. And so on.

Are lessons learned by both parties? For sure.

Much as the original book is loved, one of the recurring gripes among Amazon reviewers is that “There is no story”. Malen’s adaptation attempts to get around that by introducing a subplot about 14-year-old Katie (Ortega) really really really wanting to go to a music festival where she will most likely be sexually interfered with by some older boy, it is suggested in a whisper. Great though she is at playing the smart, fun but naive Katie, Jenna Ortega is in fact 18, which is in sexual terms an evolutionary epoch away from 14 and makes this sub-plot less effective than it should be. The eye make-up doesn’t help.

Nat Faxon as Mr Deacon
Nat Faxon as the magical Mr Deacon

As if assembling a knickerbocker glory, side characters have also been chucked in like sprinkles and squirty cream. As well as the magical Mr Deacon there are the bonkers ambulance driver Jean (Fortune Feimster), aggressive fairground customer Tara (Yimmy Yim) and ineffectual cop Officer Jones (Arturo Castro), all of whom are great inventions, add loads of sparkle and suggest there really are worries about a lack of “story”.

Paradoxically, the chopping and changing (and interchangeability) of these wacky characters makes things even less coherent. Yes Day has the setup/payoff rhythms of a trailer, as if made for kids high on aspartame.

It’s fine in small doses is another way of looking at it. Escapist in the least noble sense of the word – the parents are bad parents because they simply haven’t made enough time for their kids, not because they are juggling a thousand other concerns, like making a living. As we say in these conservative times, it is what it is. Reassuringly, the relentless yea-saying leads to pandemonium, and it turns out that conservative parenting techniques are the best policy – Mother knows best, and the kids agree too.

Even so, that finale involving Garner taking to the stage with singer/songwriter H.E.R. to sing, dance a bit and deliver some 13 Going On 30 juice is cute to the point of being grim. What was she thinking? And who’s going to tell the producer?

Yes Day! – Buy the original picture book in hardback at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2021

13 Going On 30

Jennifer Garner learns about adult underwear in 13 Going On 30


A movie for every day of the year – a good one



30 November



Thriller released, 1982

On this day in 1982, Michael Jackson’s album Thriller was released. As I write, it is the biggest selling album of all time. And with unified collections of music now a “take it or leave it” item displaced by technology it is likely to remain so. Thriller has sold around 60 million copies worldwide (estimate) and continues to sell. It was Jackson’s sixth solo album, his second as a mature artist in charge of his career, and because Jackson had renegotiated his royalty rate with his record company only the year before (after the success of Off the Wall) to give him 37% of wholesale profit, Thriller made him very wealthy. The album was significant in many ways – for the way it mixed black and white styles, for its lavish promo videos, for the way it broke the unofficial embargo against black artists on MTV. Jackson wrote four of the songs on the album, and used writer Rod Temperton and producer Quincy Jones as his secret weapon. But he also pulled in “names” such as Paul McCartney, Eddie Van Halen and Toto’s Jeff Pocaro. Though The Girl Is Mine was the first single released off the album – there were seven singles in all – it was the next single, Billie Jean, that made the album start to shift at over one million units a week. The album Thriller soon became, quite simply, a phenomenon, its sales being regularly reported on news TV. The single Beat It followed, corralling a rock audience with its Van Halen and Steve Lukather guitar work. Finally, when superlatives over the music and sales seemed to be peaking, the news of the 14-minute John Landis-directed video for the Thriller single started to leak out – the most expensive ever made, shot like a film, shown on TV in its own slot – and album sales went up again. There has never been an album/event like it since. It marked the peak of Jackson’s career.




13 Going On 30 (2004, dir: Gary Winick)

Like a lot of bodyswap movies, 13 Going On 30 doesn’t bear close scrutiny. What happens when a 13 year old girl wakes up in a grown woman’s body? Would she really get away with it, or blow the whole thing on her first encounter at work? Burst into tears. As with Big, or Freaky Friday, the best thing to do with this film is not to ask too many questions – no one seems particularly bothered that teenage Bella Swan is being courted by a man over 100 years old in the Twilight films, so why get hung up on this bit of escapist fantasy? That “sex with a minor” aspect is relevant: it had reared its head in Gary Winick’s previous film, Tadpole (cougar seduces 16-year-old boy), and here it is again as newly 30-ish Jennifer Garner – all cheekbones, knees and elbows – tries to get her head around being the editor of the magazine she adored as a kid, while forming a daddy-ish relationship with puppy-eyed Mark Ruffalo (non-threatening sexuality then a specialty). The film is, itself, a bodyswap, a conscious knock-off of a genre that was big in the 1980s, so it’s only appropriate that Jenna (Garner) went to sleep in 1987, only to wake up in the early noughties. And doubly so that the film’s standout scene sees Jenna being “uncharacteristically” enthusiastic for the song Thriller when it’s played at an office party, and leading her work colleagues through a step by step recreation of the zombie dance. But hang on a second, would a 13-year-old really be able to steer a magazine through the production cycle? You might as well ask whether a ten year old boy could run a toy company, as Big asked us to accept. Instead focus on the actors, in particular on Garner’s mile-wide smile, which is what sells the film.



Why Watch?


  • Garner’s film breakthrough
  • Judy Greer’s performance as a neurotic career woman
  • Director Gary Winick’s faith in his actors
  • The 80s soundtrack – Vanilla Ice, Madonna, Belinda Carlisle


© Steve Morrissey 2013



13 Going On 30 – at Amazon





Catch and Release

Jennifer Garner in Catch and Release



Having written the entirely acceptable Erin Brockovich and the entirely terrible 28 Days, Susannah Grant makes her directorial debut with a dog of a rom-com starring Jennifer Garner as the girl mourning the death of her fiancé, learning that he wasn’t as perfect as she had thought, and turning to his friend (Timothy Olyphant) for succour and much else besides.

How awful a rom-com premise is that? Such was your love for someone, so impactful was his death, so stricken are you by the news that he might well have been a scumbag, that you decide to start making big eyes at the nearest available sexy guy. True, it might happen in real life, but that still doesn’t make it a great rom-com premise.

Worse than that there’s the distinct impression that everyone working on this film has taken one step back from the whole enterprise. For example, no one has pointed out to Grant – probably tearing her hair out with the thousand and one things that plague a first-time director – that her star is clearly pregnant, though Garner’s character certainly isn’t in the screenplay. Nor has anyone had a word in Grant’s ear about Olyphant’s spectacularly wooden performance – he is normally a lot better than this. Further down the cast list there are good people doing good work – Sam Jaeger, Juliette Lewis, Fiona Shaw. Most particularly there’s a comic performance by Kevin Smith (director of Clerks) who decides that he might as well have some fun and is almost energetic, fresh and funny enough to save the movie. I said almost.

© Steve Morrissey 2007


Catch and Release – at Amazon