Yes, God, Yes (2020)

3 Dec

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

For every high-school teenager’s sexual awakening, there’s a movie made to exploit it for broad comedic purposes. But there’s a film that handles it differently. While there are funny moments in it, it’s a surprise to see that it’s handled very delicately. It’s a sweet and sincere little indie gem that knows how difficult it can be if you’re not sure about whether or not what you’re feeling is good or bad.

The film’s title… “Yes, God, Yes.” OK, it doesn’t sound very delicate, but trust me when I say this film, about a sexually-awakened teen, takes teens more seriously than others.

Natalia Dyer of “Stranger Things” fame is 25 years old and probably going to play high-school-aged characters until she’s 35-40. She absolutely shines here as naive, innocent 16-year-old Alice, who is sexually inexperienced–that’s why when there’s a rumor spreading in the halls of her strict Midwestern co-ed Catholic high school that she performed a sexual act for a male classmate, she has no idea what anyone is talking about. (It’s not true–it’s just a rumor.)

A funny running joke is she quietly tries to figure out what “tossing the salad” means and she doesn’t get valid answers until near the end. I should also mention that this film takes place in fall 2000, so she doesn’t have a smartphone to give her a proper definition of the term.

Yep–2000. Alice goes on AOL chat rooms. She has a contraband cellphone that she mostly uses to play that addicting “snake” game we all remember. And she watches “Titanic” on VHS–actually, to be specific, she watches the making-love scene of “Titanic” and rewinds it again because she’s so fascinated by it.

While in one of the chat rooms, she comes across provocative photos of a couple having sex. This leads her to discover masturbation for the first time–she’s surprised to learn the effect of it and even more surprised that she enjoys it.

But she’s brought up to believe that it’s a sin. In school, she’s taught that any sort of sexual activity outside of marriage is punishable by eternal damnation. She doesn’t know what to think of everything she’s discovering except that she’s curious about it. When the rumor that she hooked up with classmate Wade (Parker Wierling) gets her slut-shamed, she seeks to redeem herself by attending a school camping retreat that she hopes will put her back on a pathway to righteousness. But while she’s there, she learns more ways of pleasuring herself, develops a crush on hunky senior Chris (Wolfgang Novogratz), and learns something about a seemingly angelic senior (Alisha Boe) and even about hip, 30something priest Father Murphy (Timothy Simons) that has her asking even more questions.

By the way, if you’re wondering, none of the scenes in which Alice practices masturbation are portrayed in graphic fashion. Writer-director Karen Maine, who wrote the film as a semi-autobiographical account of her own experience as a youth, cares more about how she feels rather than what she feels, which is a huge difference and makes the film all the more refreshing for it.

I’m not sure how Catholics would take to this material, but I’m a Christian and I found “Yes, God, Yes” to be smart, engaging, and quite funny–especially when Alice visits a nearby bar and has a heart-to-heart with lapsed-Catholic lesbian (Susan Blackwell, wonderful), who teaches her more valuable life lessons than any of her teachers/mentors had attempted. It leads to a wonderful scene near the end in which Alice gives a speech (it’s not forced–everyone has to express themselves at this retreat) about how we shouldn’t feel the need to hide who we are, because Jesus himself would want everyone to treat each other with respect and honesty.

And that about sums it up.

Side-note: This may or may not be an odd aspect to praise about a film, but I admire that this film is only 77 minutes long (including credits). It’s as long as it needed to be, and I don’t know why certain other films feel the need to be overlong.

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