Ending Explained is a recurring series in which we explore the finales, secrets, and themes of interesting movies and shows, both new and old. This time, we get warm and fuzzy with the ending of the Netflix Original family comedy Yes Day.
In the spirit of the Jim Carrey comedies Liar Liar (1997) and Yes Man (208), which bind their protagonists into some temporary life-altering commitment, as well as recent parenting comedies such as Daddy’s Home (2015) and Bad Moms (2016) that challenge conventional methods of parenting, Miguel Arteta‘s Yes Day upends the lives of its characters in order to pull them back just short of where they’d started out.
Jennifer Garner stars in the Netflix Original (reuniting with her Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day director) as Allison Torres, a strict suburban mom whose kids view her as a tyrant. Just because she stops them from strapping themselves to makeshift rockets and sticking their fingers in electrical outlets. Meanwhile, Allison’s husband, Carlos (Édgar Ramírez), comfortably assumes the “good cop” role, and the kids think of him as a saint.
Tired of her reputation for being a killjoy, Allison proposes a “yes day” to the kids. This entails a period of twenty-four hours during which she can’t say “no” to any of their demands — provided they aren’t illegal and can’t cause anyone to get hurt. Of course, it isn’t long until the children wreak absolute chaos.
After an afternoon of semi-harmless fun, including eating a massive heap of ice-cream, playing a game of paintball tag, and going through a carwash with the windows down, Allison gets into a fight with daughter Katie (Jenna Ortega) and tells her she can’t go to the concert she’s been looking forward to. Katie is furious and immediately goes for the jugular, telling her mother that she doesn’t need her anymore. The teenager storms off, and, to make things worse, goes to the concert anyway.
Younger siblings Nando (Julian Lerner) and Ellie (Everly Carganilla) are also up to no good. They throw a “nerd party,” which consists of them and their friends conducting lethal science experiments while Allison sits in a jail cell for getting in a fight over a stuffed gorilla at the fair. Things really get out of hand when the kids set off foam volcanoes in the house and make a catastrophic mess.
Eventually, the family reconvenes in a manner that is nothing short of heartwarming. Allison goes to the concert to find Katie, who admits she would’ve had more fun had they gone together. And Carlos returns home to see the disastrous state of the house and finally steps up and takes on the “bad cop” role, yelling at all the kids to clean up the mess.
Despite all of the conflict, the family winds up happily together again, stronger than ever. They end up camping out in the yard, and it’s clear this “yes day,” while it had its unsuccessful moments, is going to have a lasting effect on the Torreses. Of course, the leading takeaway from Yes Day is that family is important, but that message shouldn’t necessarily surprise anyone. What is interesting is that each member of the family comes away with a unique lesson all their own.
Evan and Ellie are both in that weird liminal stage of childhood where they can’t help but test their parents’ boundaries at every opportunity. But the “yes day” gives them the opportunity to see parental rules as less being imposed for cruelty’s sake and more for their benefit. This lesson is solidified when the unsupervised house becomes overrun and pandemonium ensues. Suddenly, the kids find themselves in desperate need of law and order – the kind that only comes from a parent with the courage to say “no” to their child.
Luckily, Carlos swoops in right when things are really taking a turn for the worse. In a highly uncharacteristic move, he raises his voice and orders his kids and their friends in the house to restore things back to the way they were. Carlos might have the most interesting arc of the movie by going from being a “yes” parent to a “no” parent. It just takes an extreme situation like a “yes day” to learn that what children need is a parent who is willing to say “no.”
Although the “yes day” ultimately brings every member of the family closer together, the most moving reconciliation is between Allison and Katie. When Katie goes to the concert unsupervised and panics because she doesn’t have someone there to keep her safe, she realizes that she has not, in fact, grown too old for her mother.
As for Allison, she finally gets her own happy ending, too. When she rekindles her relationship with Katie at the concert, it is while doing something that her daughter would typically classify as being “overbearing.” The kids learn the value of their parents, and, ultimately, Allison learns that she doesn’t actually have to change much in order to be a good mom. Sure, she can benefit from letting loose a little more, but she loves and cares for her children. That’s what’s important.
In the end, Yes Day tells its audience that the best way to show your love to your family is to stay true to who you are while also sometimes having to adapt to the whole. In the case of Carlos, you can even become a better version of yourself. And like Evan, Ellie, and Katie, you can test your limits and learn from your mistakes. But in the end, the Torreses come out of their “yes day” with a newfound appreciation for each other. And that’s a lesson to take to heart.