The YES MEN Fix Sundance's Humor Deficit


“There aren’t enough funny movies” is a common complaint at Sundance. There aren’t enough funny movies at the local Cineplex, either—good comedies are hard to make, period—but the complaint is true nonetheless. While the five films I’ve seen thus far weren’t uniformly grim, neither were they particularly funny (well, except maybe BROOKLYN’S FINEST).

I was especially eager, then, for last night’s premiere of THE YES MEN FIX THE WORLD. Not to be confused with that Jim Carrey schlock, the documentary follows activist pranksters Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno—aka the Yes Men, the film’s directors (who took on the WTO in Yes Men—as they play a series of hilarious hoaxes intended to draw attention to corporate and political heartlessness, greed, and general stupidity.

To be more specific: In one hoax from 2004, Andy poses as a Dow Chemical spokesman for a live interview with BBC World News, which was marking the 20th anniversary of the Union Carbine industrial disaster in Bhopal, India, that killed thousands while leaving another 120,000 sick for life. Dow had bought Union Carbine several years earlier, and Andy told the BBC that his company would finally take full responsibility for the disaster by giving $12 billion to the victims.

The humor, of course, dervies from the Yes Men’s skill in pulling off this and other hoaxes, which include: impersonating a HUD representative and promising to reinstate all public housing stock in post-Katrina New Orleans, publishing a fake New York Times edition after the last presidential election; and, as representatives of Halliburton, proposing a ludicrous disaster survival suit-bubble during a corporate conference. While the laughs come often, they’re often short-lived. Dishearteningly, many of the Yes Men’s victims actually take the pranks—like the “Acceptable Risk Calculator” that allows corporations to weight the cost of human lives against profit—seriously.

Last night’s premiere received a half-hearted standing ovation at the Library Center Theatre—hardly surprising, given the sympathetic audience. But how would THE YES MEN FIX THE WORLD do at a cineplex in Missouri? A year earlier I would have laughed at the thought. Now, though, considering Wall Street’s collapse and Obama’s victory, Sundance festivalgoers and “middle America” suddenly don’t seem so far apart on the political spectrum. I have my reservations about the film—it lacks a clear narrative thread, coming off more like a string of “Daily Show” segments (on a grander scale, of course)—but I guarantee that it’s ten times funnier, and more relevant, than that Jim Carrey flick. Given the chance to decide, I bet much of America would agree.