It’s been a heavy year amidst a pandemic, political upheaval, a recession and a national mental health crisis - so I thought I’d look for light relief this month and watch the newest Netflix comedy release, “Yes Day.” The premise sounded promising - much like “The Purge,” but for kids. For one day only, two parents decide to say “yes” to every demand their children make of them (with some ground rules, of course) in exchange for good behavior throughout the month.
In my view, the best family films are magical for kids, but insightful for parents. Pixar has always done an excellent job of this - Mrs. Incredible worries about her husband’s potential indiscretions and looks at her unflattering rear in the mirror with dismay. A paternity test and a controversial last will and testament are central to the plot of “Ratatouille.” I found both films entertaining as a child and would watch them over and over, but they gained a level of depth and relatability as I grew into an adult.
“Yes Day” unfortunately fails on this front - I suspect as an adult viewer, you will alternate between cringing and looking impatiently at your watch. The elements of a good family film are laid down early on but are never developed. Jennifer Garner plays Allison, a mother who was once an adventurous soul. She used to take her husband skydiving and rock climbing, but now she finds herself having to be a disciplinarian to three kids. Her husband, played by Edgar Ramirez, is a regulations and compliance lawyer who is used to saying “no” all day at work, and therefore takes pleasure in being the “fun dad” when he gets home.
Garner’s character seems relatable initially - she is demonized by her kids for being the bad cop and has to pick up the slack for her husband, who is overly lenient and often absent from family time due to work. She even tries to re-enter the work force, but she is essentially told the position isn’t suitable for a mother. The foundations of a problematic but all-too-common family dynamic are laid down, then never built upon, as the film transitions into the 24 hours of chaos that are the “yes day.”
This part of the film suffers because the kids’ demands are simultaneously unimaginative and unrealistic. Eating a lot of ice cream and throwing balloons filled with Kool-Aid are amongst the requests, activities which feel rather tame - but causing long-term damage to Allison’s car and even the family home are also part of the deal, and I just couldn’t see any parent agreeing to some of these demands, even on a “yes day,” due to the financial consequences. We are asked to suspend our disbelief, but there’s not much reward for doing so. At one point Allison is even invited by a headlining act at a music festival to sing to her daughter. It’s a cringeworthy scene; the resulting emotion from her daughter is utterly uncharacteristic of a 14-year-old, and what headliner would ever allow this?
Some lessons are learned, but those lessons feel rather shallow and forgettable. The runtime is also notably short at only 79 minutes from start to credits, so there’s not much time for any story to get off the ground (though I suspect that halfway through, you’ll be glad for the short length). “Yes Day” is clean fun for your 6- to 10-year-old children on a family night in, but it doesn’t have much value beyond that.