CAST: Natalia Dyer, Timothy Simons, Wolfgang Novogratz, Francesca Reale, Susan Blackwell, Parker Wierling, Alisha Boe, Donna Lynne Champlin
RUNNING TIME: 78 mins
BASICALLY…: A Catholic schoolgirl (Dyer) discovers self-pleasure, and struggles to contain her newfound desires…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
In most teen sex comedies, it’s usually about going all the way in love-making, but rarely has one such as this focused solely on only making it to second base. As tepid as it might sound, it’s a huge deal for the main character in Yes, God, Yes, whose inner battles between the love of her Lord and the love of her fingers translate into a refreshing, indiscriminatory, and overall sweet tale of adolescent sexuality which, while light on heavy laughs, has a strong message to put out there.
Natalia Dyer, better known as Nancy Wheeler on Stranger Things, stars as Alice, a teenager who attends an extremely conservative Catholic school during the early 2000s. She’s a devout follower through and through, but that begins to change when, during a racy AOL chat (those were the days, eh?), her inner lust starts to blossom and she discovers masturbation. Immediately ashamed of her actions, and also due in part to the ongoing rumour that she’s been “tossing salad” – a euphemism which she doesn’t even understand – she decides to attend a weekend religious retreat in the hopes of becoming closer to Jesus. However, when it becomes more and more difficult for her to control her newfound urges, Alice must decide what path she is to take where she can finally feel free to express herself.
The film – which despite generating buzz at Sundance 2019 seems to have just been quietly dumped onto UK on-demand services – could almost be seen as an alternate-universe version of recent faith-based films like God’s Not Dead and War Room, where unlike those films’ seething hatred for anything and anyone that isn’t remotely religious (which, ironically, are as un-Christian as you can get), it positions people of faith as main characters but doesn’t set out to demonise anyone else for not being a follower, as well as the fact that it actually has a good message about having strong morals and just being kinder and fairer to one another. Writer-director Karen Maine – who adapts from her own short film of the same name, also starring Natalia Dyer – has fun exploring the viewpoint of a devout Catholic teen who’s starting to grow into her own, and who through her own series of misadventures learns to accept who she is without fear of being judged, which the filmmaker unfolds naturally and sensitively without relying on too many clichés to move her story along. Maine also has a satirical enough mind to expose some of the cold hypocrisies of certain figures within this heavily religious setting, such as a priest who preaches purity yet watches porn like any other guy, as well as the extremely draconian teachings that some of the battle-axe teachers drill into their students’ heads, such as equating a woman’s sexual appetite to a complex oven whilst a man’s libido is as simple as a microwave. Some of it is definitely amusing, if not laugh-out-loud hilarious, and it gives the film a unique voice amongst so many other teen sex-based comedies out there.
Dyer, of course, easily carries this film with a charming lead performance that’s full of curiosity and wide-eyed innocence; Nancy Wheeler was always one of the more underrated characters on Stranger Things, and just like on that show she brings an adorable deer-in-the-headlights quality to her role that makes her an easily sympathetic figure amidst an ocean of harsh judgement and self-inflicted guilt. It is a quiet and understated turn, but she nails her character’s awkwardness in scenes where even she isn’t sure about how she’s feeling, especially when it concerns a fellow counsellor’s hairy arms which she is instantly aroused by. Should she receive stronger material in the future (not that this isn’t strong material, but it’s arguably light fare next to something like Stranger Things), Dyer could very well make a grand career out of being this generation’s Molly Ringwald or Audrey Hepburn.
The movie is a quick sit at just under 80 minutes, so even if it goes in one ear and out the other for you, then you at least won’t feel like you’ve had your time wasted. For my money, this was a good sit with a simple and sweet message, proving that not all coming-of-age tales have to be ashamed about, erm, coming of age.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Yes, God, Yes is a sweet and light comedy about the discovery of self-pleasure as told from a devout Catholic schoolgirl, which contains a nice message about self-acceptance (one that is far more Christian than a lot of the actual faith-based movies out there) and a charming lead performance by Natalia Dyer who makes a decent argument for being this generation’s Molly Ringwald.