I was almost hoping this movie would really, really suck, so I could just leave it at that: my shortest review! Sadly, it’s more complex than that, and I’m far too verbose and opinionated to leave this one without a few remarks.
The central fact of this movie is that it’s entirely in rhymed iambic pentameter. I kid you not. It is delivered so artfully that it was 15 minutes before I was sure of it. I’d catch a word pair and think “Was that an intentional rhyme?” Then I’d catch another. So now I was looking for them, and casting my mind back over the last lines of dialogue: da DAH da DAH da DAH da DAH da DAH. Yup. Iambic pentameter, the language of the Bard. “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!” “To be or not to be, that is the question.”
Now, maybe it’s just me, but I found it a huge distraction. When I’m hearing Shakespeare I never give it a thought. But when you’re doing Shakespeare, you … well, best not to declaim, in the manner of 19th Century ham actors, but you enunciate. “Speak the speech as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue.” What we have here is what Lee nailed dead-on as “method Shakespeare.” Marlon Brando as MacBeth: “Izzisa daggah Izee befo’ me? I coulda been da Thane o’ Cawdor!” Much of the dialogue in Yes is mumbled, breathed, whispered, and I didn’t have a clue. Even worse, some of it is in British accents and dialects so dense that the only word I could make out with clarity was “fookin’.” Which is not a word, sadly, which lends itself to the sonnet form.
But I’d have left it at “NO” if I hated it, or thought it was a real stinker. It’s not. It is a noble experiment (rather like Prohibition), both on the part of writer/director Sally Potter and of all the actors who worked very, very hard to make it all seem natural. I applaud their willingness to take a risk on such chancy stuff. Sadly, the experiment failed.