My Favorite Movies – Yes, God, Yes (2020)

15 Apr

By Tanner Smith

A few months into 2021, there’s a few 2020 films I consider “favorites.” For instance, I’ve already seen I Used to Go Here, The Rental, Bad Education, and The Invisible Man countless times. But there’s one particular film from this past year that I think I’m going to treasure…

I thought it would be “Soul” or even David Byrne’s American Utopia, but actually…it’s Yes, God, Yes. (Kind of an unfortunate title, but read on.)

Based on the short film of the same name, “Yes, God, Yes” is about a devout Catholic teenage girl, named Alice, whose world is changed when she discovers pornography and…self-pleasure, I’ll call it for my most sensitive FB friends.

Natalia Dyer of “Stranger Things” fame plays Alice–Dyer is 25 years old and could probably still play these naive-teenage-girl roles when she’s 45!! She absolutely shines in “Yes, God, Yes” as her character goes through a coming-of-age personal journey that never strikes a false note. (I’m surprised that this film didn’t garner any Indie Spirit Award nominations, especially for Dyer’s great performance.)

Alice is curious about sex but totally inexperienced in the subject. She’s also afraid to try experiencing it because her Catholic school teaches that it’s a sin to engage in premarital sex–and even after marriage, sex is strictly for procreation. That’s why when a rumor starts in the halls about her having been intimate with a male classmate, she has no idea what anyone is talking about. (I’d say what sexual act is being questioned in this rumor, but it’s funnier when you hear it yourself.) She didn’t do it, but now she’s being slut-shamed due to the rumor. She also has growing feelings of sexual desire (not helped by a cybersex encounter in a chat room), for which her friend Laura (Francesca Reale) and Father Murphy (Timothy Simons) cause her to feel shame.

Alice thinks if she goes on a school-funded retreat, she’ll get back to the path of righteousness. But there’s a lot on her mind that leaves her more curious to explore her sexuality…including a hunky senior, Chris (Wolfgang Novogratz), from whom she craves attention.

One of the things I admire most about “Yes, God, Yes,” written and directed by Karen Maine (who was a co-writer for “Obvious Child,” another challenging film on taboo subjects), is how frank and honest it is about this girl’s story, and it’s never mean-spirited. It’s handled in a sweet, sincere manner. It can even be very funny but never because of cheap, exploitative jokes. We laugh at these moments for the same reasons we feel for Alice throughout the film: because the film feels real.

It’s also a film with a message: how we need to be more open about ourselves and trust each other with honesty and respect, because that’s what Jesus would want us to do. (You could also go to an extent and argue that the message is about how we need to understand our own sins so that we can deal with them better.) Alice learns that just about everyone, including Father Murphy, is hiding something, which confuses her even more. That leads her to a calm discussion with a kindly bar owner (played wonderfully by Susan Blackwell) who assures her that it’s only human to discover where certain developments may lead personally.

In this scene, she basically taught poor Alice in just a few minutes a lesson that no one in that school could in years.

“Yes, God, Yes” ends ambiguously, with no easy answers (at least, that’s how I see it). Where Alice goes from here is anyone’s guess. But I wish her the best. She’s bright and sweet and lovely–she deserves to be happy.

I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve streamed this wonderfully acted, subtle, gentle comedy-drama on Netflix in the past few months. And the greatest part about it? It’s short–about 77 minutes, including credits! That’s another thing I admire about “Yes, God, Yes”–it’s only as long as it needs to be.

You know, maybe that’s the reason I love it so. It’s a wonderfully-crafted, beautifully-detailed “compact film” (if you will) that wastes no time establishing characters or motivations and yet gives us just enough material to make us understand it all, without ever once wearing out its welcome.

“Yes, God, Yes” is currently streaming on Netflix and available elsewhere on-demand–I can’t recommend it enough. It’s honestly the kind of wonderful, charming little indie comedy that I’d like to see more of.

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