A “family movie” is a rare, yet beautiful, thing. When they are told with a proper amount of care and craft, stories that are layered enough to appeal to both kids and their parents can be cherished by many generations. And sometimes, family movies can look like Yes Day–a story that may be about a family but doesn’t seem to appeal to any of its members at all.
The plot of Netflix’s latest is as simple as they come. Even if you have trouble comprehending it, don’t worry, the opening montage and accompanying voice-over narration will spell everything out for you. We meet Allison Torres (Jennifer Garner), who tells us nostalgically that she used to be a fun person! She was the kind of person who did totally crazy random things, like travelling all around the world with only a backpack or marrying a guy (Édgar Ramírez) she met at a coffee shop which only looked like Starbucks, but definitely wasn’t Starbucks (if you’re looking for product placement, there’s plenty of extremely unsubtle ones down the line). Then, at some point, the pair had one kid, then two, then three, and had to learn how to say the hardest word in the English language: “No”.
Allison and Carlos have found out the hard way that it’s not easy being a parent, especially to a moody teenage girl (Jenna Ortega), a nerdy son obsessed with explosions (Julian Lerner) and a cute little girl who just found out about twerking (Everly Cagarnilla). After a particularly painful parent-teacher day where the Torres learns that their offspring have openly been describing their mother as a dictator in class, they decide to win their children back by granting them a “Yes Day”: a day when both parents will be forced to say yes to all of their demands.
This is normally the part where madness ensues. However, what screenwriter Justin Malen and director Miguel Arteta end up crafting is far from a wild ride.
Before the titular Yes Day kicks off, the parents set a few million ground rules, immediately shutting down any possibility of the film actually being remotely fun. What follows is just a normal day out for a family that was getting a bit too stuck in a routine. Perhaps kids who live with truly strict parents will be inspired by the joys of car washes and infinite ice cream, but anyone else who lived for five seconds in the real world could probably manufacture the same amount of excitement by themselves without needing a “Yes Day.”
Of course, not every “family film” film has to pander to grown-ups; in fact, kids deserve entertainment built for them as much as everyone else. Yet Yes Day deeply struggles to appeal to children of any age group. The main conflict of the film is between Allison and her eldest daughter, who desperately wants to go to a music festival on her own despite her mother’s genuine concern for her safety. This seems like a story that a few rebellious teens could relate to–if only Yes Day didn’t exclude them from its audience from the get-go. With a mix of outdated references, toilet humour and dull attempts at situational comedy, the chances of fourteen-year-olds relating to the struggles of their on-screen counterpart are extremely slim. Younger kids aren’t much better off, as the other members of the Torres family are often left on the side, only popping up occasionally when the screenwriter decides to remember their existence.
Following the tradition established by most family movies, there is an attempt to imbed a few messages, most specifically about the notion of parental equilibrium. For most of the film, Allison is seen as the bad guy by their kids, while their dad is perceived as yet another victim of her tyranny. He uses the fact that he has to say “no” a lot at work to avoid taking responsibility at home, even when he shares her point of view on parenting issues. Considering that her demands as a parent are overall pretty reasonable and that letting go of a career to juggle the education of three kids is no easy task, she is easy to sympathize with. The evolution of her relationship with her husband is one that more than a few mothers will relate to, and something that does benefit from being addressed in a mainstream piece of media.
However, it is still hard to take any point that Yes Day attempts to make seriously. Since the plotline is painfully tame. The cast has little to work with to make their performances worth watching, even though all the headliners have proven to be worthy actors along the course of their careers It is easy to forget about all the talent we know them to have when watching them deliver such caricatural performances. Saying a deeply unexciting line in an over-the-top tone in a dull segment, unfortunately, can’t trick anyone into believing that the film is something better than it actually is, and it is often more embarrassing than inspiring to see them try.
What Netflix wanted to market as a crazy family day out ends up being as boring as they come, and it is hard to find many redeeming qualities for one of the most unimaginative movies that the streaming platform decided to put its name on in the past few months. Even a surprising cameo and an attempt at a heartwarming ending can’t save Yes Day from being an utterly negative experience seemingly designed for no one in particular. Despite its promises of reckless fun, it’s hard not to feel sad by seeing the film amount in little more than wasted talent and time.
Yes Day is available to stream on Netflix now
by Callie Hardy
Callie (she/her) is a Belgian New Media student currently living in Dublin. She enjoys female-fronted horror, nostalgic adaptations of childhood classics and every outfit Blake Lively wears in A Simple Favor. She’s usually pretty honest, but if you catch her saying that her favourite film is anything other than Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events, you should know that she’s lying. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram and Letterboxd.