Producers: Lawrence Grey, Ben Everard, Daniel Rappaport, Nicole King-Solaka and Jennifer Garner Director: Miguel Arteta Screenplay: Justin Malen Cast: Jennifer Garner, Édgar Ramírez, Jenna Ortega, Julian Lerner, Everly Carganilla, Arturo Castro, Fortune Feimster, Nat Faxon, Molly Sims, H.E.R., Tracie Thoms, Megan Stott, Yimmy Yim and Snowden Grey Distributor: Netflix
Miguel Arteta and Jennifer Garner must have a thing for slapstick family comedy. After giving us an adaptation of Judith Viorst’s “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” in 2014, they’ve now reteamed for this take on Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld’s 2009 children’s book “Yes Day.” It proves as genially inconsequential and instantly forgettable as its predecessor.
The premise is simple. Allison (Garner) and Carlos (Édgar Ramírez) were, as a prologue she narrates informs us, once inveterate risk-takers who enthusiastically embraced all sorts of new experiences. But after they got married and had kids, they turned into overprotective parents their children Katie (Jenna Ortega), Nando (Julian Lerner) and Ellie (Everly Carganilla) view as unreasonable. They view Allison, in particular, as not just a nag but a domestic dictator who’s always saying no to everything. (Carlos, being a bit of a wimp, lets her do the dirty work.)
Dumbfounded by the realization, they agree to a solution proposed by a teacher named Deacon (Nat Faxon) that they should try a “yes day,” during which they’ll do whatever the kids want—within certain restrictions. If they renege by saying no to something, Katie will get to attend a music festival alone with her friends (something Allison had nixed), and Nando will get to throw a “nerd party” at their house. (Ellie, being too young to feel much oppression, simply goes along with her older siblings.)
The kids’ plans for the day are—as you might expect—pretty juvenile. Allison and Carlos have to dress in embarrassing clothes, and then endure a session in an ice cream parlor where dad has to consume an enormous sundae, followed by a drive-through at a carwash with the windows down. There’s also a “capture the flag” team competition called Kablowey, where Allison’s old freewheeling spirit reemerges, much to Katie’s surprise.
But things take a bad turn when the family proceeds to an amusement park called Magic Mountain. The extra-large roller-coaster goes fine, but now Carlos is hankering to ditch things and get back to work, and when Allison finds out that Katie is still making plans to go to the music festival with her friends, she explodes. She tries to repair things by winning a big pink plush gorilla for the girl, but that goes sour when it leads to a brawl with another woman and ends with her and Carlos in jail; worse, the kids hoodwink a dopey cop (Arturo Castro) into letting them go off on their own, Katie to the festival and Nardo home to have his par-tay.
Naturally things go awry as Katie finds herself scared and alone with a dead phone, and Nardo’s party turns into a destructive shambles. Luckily Allison and Carlos, helped by an ebullient paramedic named Jean (Fortune Feimster) and—in Allison’s case—the pop singer H.E.R., playing herself, manage to reestablish a degree of order as well as their bonds with the kids, who learn that overly permissive parenting isn’t such a good thing, after all.
As family entertainment goes, “Yes Day” is colorful and energetic enough, with more than adequate contributions from cinematographer Terry Stacey, production designer Doug J. Meerdink, editor Jay Deuby and composer Michael Andrews. Garner and Ramírez throw themselves into parts that force them to put up with plenty of humiliation, both emotional and physical, and the youngsters playing their kids aren’t as irritating as they might be. The supporting players tend to go overboard, but that’s the nature of such Nickelodeon-level stuff.
Why Arteta, who’s made much more sophisticated and interesting films in the course of his career, has been drawn again to this sort of kiddie fare remains a question, though a paycheck may be the simple answer. One hesitates to recommend Nancy Reagan for much of anything, but perhaps he should take to heart her injunction to “Just Say No” when the urge arises. Come to think of it, parents who control their Netflix accounts might follow that advice too, since “Yes Day” could give their children some unwelcome ideas.