Review by Camden Ferrell
Yes, God, Yes is a coming of age comedy that had its premiere at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival. It is the feature directorial debut of Karen Maine. This is one of the most refreshingly clever takes on adolescence in years, and it’s one that succeeds from Maine’s candid execution and Natalia Dyer’s fantastic leading performance.
In this movie, Alice is a teenager attending a Catholic school in the early 2000’s. We see the hallways lined with posters promoting abstinence and pro-life sentiments, her teacher is a priest who tells them that those who have premarital sex and masturbate will face eternal damnation, and she is as sheltered as it gets. However, after an AOL chat, she discovers masturbation and must deal with these urges while on a retreat with her classmates. This is a story that is so realistic and ripe for commentary and comedy, and Maine uses this premise to its fullest extent to create a great narrative.
Maine’s script is impressive to say the least. It makes it a point to really recreate the atmosphere of the early 2000’s without using nostalgia as a crutch. The way she crafts the character’s dialogue in regard to sex and her obliviousness to vulgar slang is charming and very tastefully done. It doesn’t overemphasize and exploit its racier themes and moments, and it frames it in a light that feels very reminiscent of the talks many of us have undoubtedly had at some point or another. The script is a triumph in realism, and it's full of plenty awkward and funny moments as well.
The acting throughout is very good, but the obvious standout is from Natalia Dyer (Stranger Things) as Alice. Dyer takes on this character gracefully, and she really plays off all of the innocent qualities of Alice and convincingly portrays her increasing lustful desires throughout. I think it’s a unique role, and it’s one that requires a delicate and proper performance, and Dyer delivers on all fronts.
What’s best about this movie is how accessible it is to those who are unfamiliar with Catholic ideology and the retreats that are often part of that experience. Despite its religious themes and overtones, it’s still an honest teen comedy that allows all members of the audience to take part in Alice’s moral dilemma and really relate to it in one way or another. Maine has a special way of speaking to the audience and making us feel seen through the way she executes a scene.
Even though it’s accessible to all, this movie will definitely resonate with those raised in a Catholic household. Having been on some of these retreats in my adolescence, there are some scenes in this movie that made me cringe just because of how realistic Maine nailed these aspects of Catholicism. The movie is packed with awkward conversations and uncomfortable and hormone-soaked interactions, and it really makes the movie what it is. It may honestly be too authentic at times, but it’s very well-done.
The movie also does a great job of showing the inherent hypocrisy in Catholic organizations and its members as well as the need for personal choice and free will when dealing with religion. Maine does this without discrediting the idea of religion, and her themes and messages really aren’t objectionable. This movie is a letter to every teenager who feels like they’re lost, confused, or doomed to Hell, and it let’s them know that it’s okay to feel that way. Maine created this movie to tell their story.
Yes, God, Yes may not be for everyone, but this is one of the best movies this year, and it’s one of the most honest portraits of adolescence and religion in a very long time. Maine’s film is one of the best directorial debuts in recent memory, and this movie benefits significantly from her fresh perspective. It’s a movie about a teenage girl, written by a woman, and it’s a story that only she could tell so convincingly.
Yes, God, Yes is currently available at virtual cinemas (a list can be found here) and will be available on VOD July 28.