DIRECTED BY: Karen Maine
STARRING: Natalia Dyer, Timothy Simons, Wolfgang Novogratz, Francesca Reale, Susan Blackwell, Parker Wierling, Alisha Boe, Donna Lynne Champlin, Allison Shrum, John Henry Ward and Matt Lewis
Sixteen-year-old Alice has always been a good Catholic girl. However, when an AOL chat turns racy, she discovers masturbation and becomes guilt-ridden. Seeking redemption, she attends a mysterious religious retreat to try and suppress her urges, but it is not easy, especially after a cute boy starts flirting with her.
Yes, God, Yes is a coming-of-age film marking the directorial feature debut of Karen Maine, based on her 2017 short of the same name. Set somewhere in the early 2000’s, the film follows Alice, a teenager who attends a strict Catholic school, where in their sex education class, they’re taught that not only is sex before marriage forbidden, but masturbation isn’t allowed in the eyes of God either. Alice takes the lessons seriously and becomes concerned when watching a particular scene in Titanic raises some urges that she begins to wonder if this will damn her to hell. Fearful of going to hell, Alice signs up for a four-day bible retreat that’s held by the school in the hopes to contain/remove her impure urges, but that’s thrown out the window as Alice begins to uncover some shocking truths about the retreat’s most devout.
The film takes a heightened satirical approach to Catholicism, particularly in the United States, with some elements loosely inspired by Karen Maine’s own teenage experiences and though it could’ve taken the route of going raunchy, it goes for the more subtle and naturalistic approach of keeping things horny but making it extremely unsexy, and at times awkward and uncomfortable towards cringe factor. The film is well written in showcasing Alice’s journey from having a sheltered existence within her strict upbringing between home (presumably) and school to where and how she feels about herself at the end of the film, particularly as well in how it approaches the absurdities and hypocrisies that you are taught from adults you believe are there to set you on the right path, but they haven’t resolved their own issues around sexuality themselves. There’s scenes of awkward comedy that are showcased here in Alice’s journey, particularly in one instance she is sent sexual photos in an AOL messenger conversation with a stranger that horrifies her yet fascinates her at the same time which sends her down the path of exploration, such the multi-purpose use of Nokia’s silent vibrating alert and a mop. Natalia Dyer is great here as Alice, bringing a naturalistic performance with her reactions to other people’s judgements as well as even with this dread of eternal damnation weighs down on her, she manages to find light at the end of the tunnel in overcoming the nasty rumour that follows her and becoming stronger in knowing that we’re all still trying to figure everything out. The supporting cast also do well in their roles, particularly Timothy Simons as Father Murphy who at one point compares the male and female sexualities to microwaves and ovens, as in it doesn’t take the boys long or much to feel the urge (aka ‘Boys will be boys/can’t help themselves’), while ladies take a while to ‘preheat’.
While the film focuses on Alice’s journey, a part of me would’ve liked to see exactly what her home life was like bar the one scene we see her have with her father. Even with its over-exaggerated nature of the film, I’m sure there will be some viewers of the Catholic faith that will find some moments here that they can relate to (Catholic guilt is a hell of a thing), while some may find their faith mocked too much here. While the direction and lead performance is strong, I felt that the final act didn’t have the impact and resolution that I was hoping for. It’s a shame that the film has the mature rating here (R-rated in the U.S, 16+ here according to the certification on Amazon Prime), as there’s no nudity, nothing that racy to give it such a certification other than the film being about sexual exploration and how natural it is. Such a rating might mean the film will not get the eyes it deserves to see it. This ain’t no American Pie, it’s more charming and light-hearted.
Yes, God, Yes is a simple yet well executed coming-of-age story of a young girl trying to find herself in a setting that’s designed to shame you for having natural feelings. The film is well written and directed by Karen Maine and Natalia Dyer gives a great performance in the role of Alice.