Feel-good family movies–that is to say, movies for families about actual families–are tough to pull off. You have to include fun kid-friendly elements, along with an actual story that connects with the parents in the room, or at least keeps them from tuning out. Each character needs to have an arc, and those arcs each need to play to a different member of the audience (the gold standard for this is the Paddington movies, which accomplish this with magical ease). The point is, there are many factors, and many opportunities for something to go wrong.
Most movies of this ilk (i.e. Beethoven or Honey I Shrunk the Kids) solve the problem by making the whole enterprise tolerable for the parents and goofy fun for the kids. In this, Netflix’s Yes Day is no different from the rest of the pack. It’s not the gold standard. However, in the hands of director Miguel Arteta and a strong supporting ensemble of comic actors, it manages to be pretty enjoyable.
Allison (Jennifer Garner) and Carlos (Edgar Ramírez) Torres used to be fun. Before they had kids, Allison tells us via voiceover, they were all about “yes.” After having two girls and a boy, however, that joyful spontaneity has taken a nosedive. Allison, a stay-at-home mom, feels like she’s always denying her kids what they want. Carlos, a lawyer, is tired of having to be the naysayer at work, and relishes getting to be the good guy at home. After a parent-teacher conference where Allison learns just how controlling her kids think she is, a school counselor (Nat Faxon) suggests the couple try implementing a “yes day” for the family, 24 hours where the kids get to call the shots, with a few exceptions.
Yes Day is bright, silly and sweet, buoyed by an ultra-game Garner and Ramírez, who have genuine chemistry. Whatever difficulties the family may have, the Torres clan feels like a realistic unit. Katie (Jenna Ortega), the oldest, is struggling with a desire for independence that she’s not quite ready for. Nando (Julian Lerner), the middle kid, is smart and ambitious, but lacks focus. Ellie (Everly Carganilla) is cute and canny. They’re not cloying, though some of their antics strain credulity.
What keeps the movie from feeling totally bland is the stable of scene stealing supporting performances that belie the fact that even though Arteta is a hired hand here, we’re still watching a movie from the guy who directed Duck Butter and The Good Girl, as well as Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Faxon is Yes Day’s secret MVP, appearing throughout the film to make weird running jokes that he seems absolutely committed to. Fortune Feimster is over-the-top but fun as an enthusiastic ambulance driver, and Arturo Castro is endlessly endearing as a helpful police officer.
Overall, Yes Day doesn’t make a massive impression, but it’s a perfectly fine movie if you’re looking for something to watch with the family. Kids will enjoy the sense of empowerment and anarchy, and parents will appreciate that the anarchy is tempered with some modest lessons on responsibility and equal partnership when it comes to child-wrangling. There’s just enough here to make Yes Day worth your time, and nothing that will make you immediately sorry you chose to watch it on a Friday night.
“Yes Day” is available Friday on Netflix.