There’s a scene in Richard Linklater’s 2016 film Everybody Wants Some!! that sees two men discussing the everyday pressures of being young and how growing up can be tricky and unkind. The true wisdom kicks in when one of them states that if you embrace your inner strange, only then is it interesting and fun.
That moment comes full circle with extreme excellence in the hilariously and ironically titled sex comedy Yes, God, Yes. Rather than merely make the same comment said dozens of times, filmmaker Karen Maine (co-writer of Obvious Child) makes a refreshingly big splash with her feature film directorial debut. She creates an authentic feeling of the inherent uncertainty that permeates adolescence while capitalizing on the energy of the 1990s. (Folks giddy over the era had best prepare to blast some “Genie in a Bottle” and Collective Soul afterward.)
Based on her 2017 short film of the same name, Yes, God, Yes squares Stranger Things star Natalia Dyer front and center in a performance that rings without a false note. Dyer portrayed good church girl Alice in the original short, but here she returns to make more profound observations of teenage sexuality, misguided religious views and societal pressures.
Set in the Midwest, Maine’s film focuses on 16-year-old Alice (Dyer) as she discovers a world of temptation and sexual urges while at a strict Catholic school that tries to mask the realities of puberty with starched piety. This springs up after an innocent AOL chat about movies turns unexpectedly racy. Not to mention the number of times Alice has rewound the steamy car sex scene in Titanic for romantic inspiration.
However, the big question at the forefront is: Do all these naughty thoughts and actions mean Alice is going to hell? Maybe a Catholic retreat led by school headmaster Father Murphy (Veep’s Timothy Simons) will provide some answers, or perhaps it will test her further.
Maine puts all these elements under a microscope to much amusement and laughter, especially when it lampoons sex-phobic messaging hypocrisies. The film is quite direct when it comes to the topic of sex. The opening titles make that apparent when it provides dictionary definitions too taboo to repeat.
There’s no doubt Yes, God, Yes will rub some people the wrong way. But if you can recognize the humor within these moments of discomfort, you’re well on your way to walking away from one of the better movies of 2020.
Similarities to 2004’s Saved! and the heartbreaking 2018 drama Boy Erased can be detected, yet Yes, God, Yes finds its own ground as a funny and heartfelt study of human wants and desires. It drums up a seamless comedic rhythm and doesn’t fall into the trap that many period-specific films do, where the audience is encouraged to consider themselves above the characters. Maine cuts us off at the pass when we may be inclined to giggle. She’s not afraid of including sincerity or highlighting that we all have secrets.
The film features a love scene with a mop and a charming discussion between two new friends at a lunch table about sushi. Neither sequence jars nor throws the narrative off balance. With all its absurdity, it’s a gentle film about self-acceptance and coming of age. Love and embrace it.