by Katie Rife, AV Club
A lot has changed since the heyday of teen sex comedies in the early ’80s—not least the revelation that adolescent girls are just as horny as their male counterparts. More recently, projects on the big screen (The To Do List) and the small (Big Mouth) have begun to plumb the depths (pun intended) of puberty’s lustful purgatory from a female perspective. But even amid this new wave, you’d be hard pressed (pun also intended) to find a masturbation comedy as sweet and sensitive as Yes, God, Yes.
Stranger Things’ Natalia Dyer stars as Alice, a good girl who attends church with her dad every Sunday and is sincerely worried that she’s going to hell because she stumbled into a dirty AOL chat one afternoon after school. The film shares its early-’00s setting and softly lit Catholic-school milieu with Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird. And like that film, this is a semi-autobiographical project for writer-director Karen Maine, who first made the film-festival scene as a co-writer of Obvious Child. But Yes, God, Yes is positively sex-crazed compared to those movies, though it focuses less on actually doing the deed than the single-minded desires that drive teenagers to distraction.
That’s because Alice is deeply repressed and wholly inexperienced, and afraid both of her own body and the feeling she gets when she sees hunky but devout camp counselor Adam (John Henry Ward). She’s not going to run out and lose her virginity just to see what it feels like—not that there’s anything wrong with that. But it’s a huge deal for Alice just to circle “turned on” on an emotions worksheet at a church-sponsored weekend retreat. And her honesty will backfire, as Maine steers the story into a gentle satire of Christian sexual hypocrisy that eventually leads to Alice receiving advice from a wise middle-aged lesbian on life, love, and the importance of protecting your passwords.
Although Yes, God, Yes will be painfully relatable to ex-evangelicals and recovering Catholics who were raised in the same buttoned-up environment as its main character, Maine doesn’t approach the material from a place of condemnation. True, camp leader Father Murphy (Veep’s Timothy Simons) provides some of the film’s cheesiest (and funniest) moments, like when he asks his charges to stare at a painting of Jesus and really feel the lyrics to Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.” But his faith is earnest, and Alice’s confusion about the mixed messages she’s getting from her teachers and from her hormones doesn’t seriously challenge her belief in God.
Yes, God, Yes is a reassuring film rather than a bitter one, letting teenagers know that not only are they not evil, but their inner turmoil is also completely normal. Dyer enhances the film’s relatability with her meek, anxious performance, playing Alice as a baby bird pushed out of the nest who’s staring at the ground with wide eyes and terror in her heart. But although she’s a tender soul, Alice isn’t completely without agency. She just needs to learn to trust herself and make her own way in the world—which, in her case, means rewinding the sex scene in Titanic multiple times while her dad is asleep upstairs.
Director of Photography: Todd A. Somodevilla