The slice of life story of two masters of the modern hoax. More laughs per dollar than any other film fuel
A tough film to call a simple documentary, “Yes Men” is a hilarious odyssey into an insane world made more insane and more rational at the same time. The product of two film makers who probably never saw themselves as film makers, Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, this is a production that is almost too good to be a film. It should be some kind of stage play accompanied by the London Philharmonic on LSD while being blessed by Mother Teresa. Although it is the most amateur of productions the film copped the Berlin International Film Festival Panorama Audience Award in 2008. Rightly so. What the film lacks in budget the film makers make up for in sheer guts. These guys will truly do anything.
The set-up is the most recent evolution of the old “Candid Camera” routine wherein unsuspecting people are led into very unusual circumstances by trained actors pretending to be people there are not. The only difference here is that the unsuspecting fall guys are very savvy, senior and high-paid businessmen with more than a few skeletons in their closet.
The rationale of the Yes Men is simple; if the world is not the way it should be, act like it is the way it should be and maybe things will change. OK, this is an over-simplification. It is actually a demonstration of doing the right thing thrown in the face of persons doing the wrong thing. Although it is doubtful that this will cause much change in those who are the target of the pranks it certainly is a clear contrast broadcasted to the public.
The lesson of the film is that money, if not the root of all evil, seems to be more plentiful when people are being hurt than when they are being helped. The antidote is to get into costume and pretend to be one of the greedy victimizers while at the same time announcing the corporation’s intent to do something good for a change. The disruption in the minds of the audience of corporate employees, adherents and hangers-on is sharp and severe. In fact, they come unglued and immediately want the Yes Men pummeled, drawn and quartered if not sued for some sort of liable.
But the more the viewer thinks about the harder it is to define exactly what it is they did wrong. The two activists apply to speak at conferences and high visibility industry functions and claim to be part of organizations that they are not, and never will be, part of. Fraud? Yes! Misrepresentation? Yes? Does the actual audience get a better show than they ever would have gotten from the real executives? Yes, yes! In the end, although at first hurt and bewildered as to why anyone would want to play such a cruel trick, the audience in the end admits they learned a lot more from the fake corporate executives than they ever would from the guilt ridden and lawyer sodden real things.
Dow Chemical paying millions to Bhopal victims who are to this day being born with deformities due to the Dow plant chemical spill? Exxon marketing a new bio-fuel make from the bodies of climate change victims? This is rescuing the world in a completely different way. If the thousand new homes don’t get built by the make-believe representative of the federal government at least a few people might be inspired to ask why not.
If you like this film, check out the little known gem “Czech Dream” directed by two young Czech directors Vít Klusák and Filip Remunda in 2004 who open a completely fake super buy-everything store to usher in the Czech Republics entre into the European Common Market. Common allies to save the world through humor with more than just a touch of reality.
Directed, Written and Performed by: Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno
Release: October 7, 2009
MPAA: Not Rated
Runtime: 87 minutes
Country: France / USA