Writer-director Karen Maine brings her experience as a Catholic high schooler to the screen in “Yes, God, Yes.” And, as the title implies, this is about how sex and religion mix — and don’t mix.
It’s 2001 Iowa. Alice (Natalia Dyer) is a 16-year-old learning about libido in a class called Morality, where she’s told masturbation is a mortal sin. When a rumor starts, Alice attends a four-day retreat, where she learns some truth about herself and her surroundings.
Dyer (“Stranger Things”) convincingly plays a confused teen, terrified, curious about pleasure and her body, and at the grips of awakening.
During a random invitation for cybersex on AOL, Dyer’s expressions of surprise and piqued interest are endearing and natural. She struggles with a response before landing on: "I take your boxers off. You're wet, too.”
Watching Alice’s tender naivete, and her subtle and realistic character arc, are the heart of this film.
“Yes, God, Yes” won best ensemble at South by Southwest in 2019, and supporting players drive this home.
Wolfgang Novogratz (“The Half of It”) plays Chris, a Disney prince facsimile and football star trying to do the right thing; Alisha Boe (“13 Reasons Why”) is popular and unevolved-yet Nina; and Francesca Reale (“Haters Back Off”) is Alice’s social-climbing bestie, Laura.
Timothy Simons (“Veep”) is a worthy adversary as Father Murphy, riding the line of authority, charisma and flawed humanity.
In his first one-on-one with Alice, they’re both lit in a darkened room, Father in a wooden throne-like chair, she in a fold-up. He offers a kindly penance and some Hail Marys to her confession.
In their last interaction, he’s dimly lit. He taps his fingers, leaking impatience and judgment. He hasn’t changed, but she has, and it culminates in a grounded confrontation.
Collective Soul's “Shine," Mandy Moore’s “Candy” and more securely set this in the early aughts. And clocking in at just 78 minutes, it covers deep topics with a light and loving brush.
It’s the directorial debut for Maine (“Obvious Child” co-writer), who expanded on her 11-minute short of the same name (also starring Dyer). Maine pulled much of this film from her personal experiences at a similar camp in high school, and received a lot of flack for it from people in her hometown.
“I just hope young women see and recognize something about themselves in it that allows them to feel less guilty or awkward or shameful about feeling sexual or having sexual experiences or just wanting to explore their body,” she said in an interview.
This film is a sensitive and tender coming-of-age film, showcasing, in realistic lengths, a female’s experience with discovery, pleasure, shaming, judgment and growth.
A character says, “Your body is a gift from God; you need to honor it.” And, “Yes, God, Yes,” Maine’s self-love letter, is a necessary addition to the genre.
Director: Karen Maine
Writer: Karen Maine
Stars: Natalia Dyer, Timothy Simons, Wolfgang Novogratz
Rating: R for sexual content and some nudity
Available: Amazon Prime, Google Play, Netflix
Melinda Lavine is a features reporter and movie reviewer for the News Tribune. Write to her at email@example.com.