The best moments in the Netflix comedy “Yes Day” don’t involve slapstick — although there’s some of that. They don’t come from the list of scenes that include the big water balloon fight, driving through the car wash with the windows down or a tween’s baking soda volcano experiment that gets out of hand.
It’s the singing that sells it and the leave-it-all-out-there commitment of the leads in those moments that makes this otherwise forgettable kids’ pic memorable.
What parent hasn’t had an over-the-top sing-along with the kids in the car on their way to school? The window for that is narrow, getting them to do it before they’re too embarrassed by “the very IDEA.”
Edgar Ramírez, a mainstay in dramatic roles such as Gianni Versace in “American Crime Story,” leaves nothing in the locker room when he and little Everly Carganilla start a drive with a kiddie song about gummy bears but sing their way to an encore, which is “Epic.”
Jennifer Garner and Ramírez star in this uneven but occasionally giddy family farce about a fun-loving, impulse-indulging couple who said “Yes!” to everything when they dated and married, only to evolve into the Empress and Emperor of “NO” when they had three kids.
“NO is part of the job,” Mom narrates. But as their teen (Jenna Ortega of TV’s “Stuck in the Middle” and that “Babysitter” horror sequel) hits “I wanna go to Fleekfest (a concert) with FRIENDS” age and son Nando (Julian Lerner) bridles at the limits put on his science experiments, they realize they’ve turned into no fun.
The goofy guidance counselor (Nat Faxon) has a suggestion — a “YES day,” where they say yet to everything the kids pitch. There can be limits to that, too — long term consequences, cost, something all three, ages five to 14, can partake in and agree on.
Sure, raising children is just an 18 year-long suicide watch. But it’s just one day. What can go wrong?
Director Miguel Arteta has become a reliable go-to filmmaker for kids’ films (“Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”) in between the edgier fare (“Duck Butter”) he got his start with (“The Good Girl”).
But what sells this comedy is the way the two leads are all-in on it. Garner produced it so it’s no surprise that she’s committed, first scene to last, to this harassed “No” mom forced to revisit her fun past. Ramírez is the real surprise, pulling out all the stops in a genre where you’d think he was a bit at sea.
ACTORs. I tell you what.
Some of the “say YES” gimmicks are funny, some lame. And there’s down time between them and before a sweet “teachable moment” finale that makes “Yes Day” play like a two hour drag (it’s under 90 minutes long).
But Garner, Ramírez and the kids never let on that this isn’t “Epic,” and that maybe this is one screen comedy where you can get away with “Go ahead, try this at home.”
MPA Rating: PG, scatological humor
Cast: Jennifer Garner, Edgar Ramírez, Jenna Ortega, Tracie Thoms, Nat Faxon, Julian Lerner, Everly Carganilla and H.E.R.
Credits: Directed by Miguel Arteta, script by Justin Malen, based on the book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:26