Coming-of-age movies with a Catholic school girl, complete with a plaid uniform skirt and an awkward persona is not exactly the most original content being produced nowadays. Audiences can already experience this with Bruce McCulloch’s Superstar (1999), find the ironic version in Brian Dannelly’s Saved! (2004), and explore the class issues in Greta Gerwig’s heartwarming Lady Bird (2017). What sets Karen Maine’s feature debut, Yes, God, Yes, apart from these titles is the innocent realism that at times is so precise and accurate, it tiptoes on satire.
Yes, God, Yes follows Alice (Natalia Dyer), a high school student in the early 2000s, as she questions the religious guidelines that cover her sexual awakening with a thick layer of shame. While her friends and fellow classmates appear to renounce any carnal or erotic thoughts, Alice explores her urges in secret. Her curiosity leads her to cyber shenanigans and sexual thoughts that are taught to be wrong in the eyes of God. While still attempting to conform to the righteous ways taught by her Catholic school, Alice attends a religious retreat that is meant to bring her closer to Jesus. It is during this time that she finds many of those around her don’t practice what they preach.
Nostalgia is a major component to Yes, God, Yes. Snacking on cheese puffs while chatting on AOL instant messenger or the use of a Nokia cellular phone to play the game ‘Snake’ on the bus transports the audience to the early 2000s for the film’s entire runtime. While nostalgia can sometimes be a shortcut to quick and easy endearment from anyone who watches a film, Yes, God, Yes uses it precisely to show the wide-eyed innocence of a high school girl who thinks rewinding the sex scene in Titanic to watch it three times is going to condemn her to hell. The juxtaposition of her girlish fear next to the harsh, archaic religious instructions she is taught shows the teenage reality that Alice is struggling with.
Natalia Dyer is perfect in this lead role. Her demeanor embodies the shy yet inquisitive Alice in a natural and believable way. Viewers that personally experienced a religious upbringing will be able to find a piece of themselves in Alice while those who might not have personally been held to similar holy standards in their youth will sympathize with her inner turmoil. Her performance coupled with a well-written screenplay by writer and director Karen Maine makes for a nuanced view from Alice. Very little has to be said through conversation as the actions fueled by Alice’s curiosities during the retreat explain her inner questions and mental process, the main one being, “Is it really so wrong to feel turned on?”
Yes, God, Yes feels new and specific to the character because of its commitment to sex-positivity. It is a break from today’s chaotic world as it cannonballs into a time of teenage anxiety and naiveté. After writing Obvious Child and this film, I can’t wait to see what sentimental story Karen Maine gives us next.