Yes, God, Yes – a funny title pithily catching the twin obsessions of this slight but sharp movie. Sex and god. It stars Natalia Dyer, who somehow has managed to fit this in alongside the nine other movies and 30-odd episodes of the Netflix show Stranger Things she’s appeared in over the last six years or so.
She was about 24 when she made this, but the big eyes and slender frame mean she can just about get away with playing Alice, a teenager from a sheltered background grappling with the first stirrings of sexuality at the Catholic school that seems almost unnaturally fixated on the carnal.
Coming of agers with storylines that feature young women masturbating are few and far between, but that’s what’s on offer here, andYes, God, Yes’s intent is clearly to portray this sort of thing as entirely normal. It’s the god-focused anti-sex brigade who are depicted as aberrant, on account of their blatant hypocrisy. In fact that’s the entire arc of the film – she’s fine, it turns out, it’s everyone else who’s wonky.
And to make the point super obvious, writer director Karen Maine takes her hero out of school – where Alice is so clueless about things sexual that when someone accuses her of having tossed some boy’s salad, the innuendo whooshes straight over her head – and takes her off to a Catholic retreat full of happy clappy young people, earnest and perma-beaming priests keen (too keen) to get the youth to unburden themselves of their lusty thoughts and camp leaders who insert themselves into the lives of the new arrivals in a way that is suspicious in any context, religious groups no longer getting the free pass they once did.
Here, the trembling Alice, her libido having initially been awakened by Leo and Kate’s steamed-up windows in Titanic, runs smack into weapons-grade hunk and boundlessly upbeat Chris (Wolfgang Novogratz), who thinks everything is “awesome” and doesn’t yet know that Alice wanted to jump him the second she caught sight of his hairy forearms. What’s a girl to do?
As already mentioned, this film is entirely on Alice’s side, slightly to its detriment. Religiosity coming in for a bit of a kicking is hardly novel, but Dyer helps makes it work with a performance that is entirely winning. She’s also got a touch of the wide-eyed “who, me?” delivery skills of Jennifer Aniston – no bad thing.
Karen Maine co-wrote the 2014 movie Obvious Child, a vehicle for comedian Jenny Slate which also had an interest in the policing of women’s bodies, and much of Yes, God, Yes is based on Maine’s own experience growing up in the Mid-West and attending a Catholic school where, so the dogma went, all non-procreative sex was sinful. Obvious Child was based on a short of the same title, and Yes, God, Yes repeats the formula, also being a brief film (1hr 18mins) based on an original short of 11 minutes. In interviews Maine has suggested that she was worried if she added anything more to the final cut of Yes, God, Yes it would have extended it beyond its natural span. She’s right about that. This gets in, says what it has to say and gets out again.
Maine has a handle on high school manners and speech, and catches the earnestness of youth well, especially when youth is on its soapbox, but also the paradoxical twin poles of youthful chastity and horniness. That she managed to catch Dyer just as Stranger Things was turning her into a big name is a massive plus for her and this film. Dyer sells the proposition and is the making of the film.
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© Steve Morrissey 2021