Written by: Karen Maine
Starring: Natalia Dyer, Timothy Simons, Wolfgang Novogratz, Francesca Reale, Susan Blackwell
While religion has its perks for people finding hope and faith in a higher being, the institutions entrusted with shepherding the congregation falls far too frequently into human imperfection. Therefore, circumstances arrive where these leaders meant to help people find God end up doing irreparable damage to its people, with women in the Catholic Church being one of the more heartbreaking instances. Yes, God, Yes displays how this gets done as the protagonist goes through the stage of adolescence where her sexuality begins to develop uncontrollably.
Attending a Catholic high and attending mass regularly, Alice (Natalia Dyer) has noticed herself getting aroused frequently, almost to an uncontrollable degree. Finding a way to repress it much like all the other students, she elects to participate in a school retreat named Kirkos. In this isolated place with all of her classmates, she begins to learn most of her classmates do not practice what they preach.
On a personal note, this film speaks to my high school experience to the tee in regard to attending this retreat. Now, a young high school Josh, believed the retreat he went on was such a unique experience about bonding with classmates in God’s time. Not only does Yes, God, Yes display this style of retreat that has no uniqueness to it, but it also exposes the emotional manipulation at play to make these youngsters have a momentous experience while on it. If only you could have seen my face throughout this entire viewing experience as my mouth remained agape whenever it was not furiously laughing. This pretty much describes the entire experience of watching this film, as it looks to shock and poke fun at this fabricated process.
From the phony folks to the hypocritical teachers, this film gets right at the core of the experience of attending a Catholic High School. If a girl was sexually active, she would be called vulgar names, while also being told she would be prayed for. Guys would use other girls as some sort of clout-building exercise as if sex should be an indicator of popularity. The teachers play in the mud of all the gossip and then try to pass off as if they care about the well-being, and then you have the priests, who incessantly preach and fail to realize many of these students believe they will burn in hell for the smallest infractions to God’s rules. An inside perspective must have been utilized, which Karen Maine certainly must have utilized. She manages to skewer an environment meant to educate young students of Christ, but it ends up becoming a breeding ground for revolt and repression, which gets seen through the character of Alice.
A junior in high school now, she tries to find ways to build an outlet for all the sexual feelings she has but remains afraid to talk to anyone about it because of the shame involved. This leads her to join AOL chat rooms and talking to much older people. It’s horrifying for the audience to watch but for her, it serves as the only way she can discover more about herself as a sexual being. Focusing on this perspective lays out exactly why this film works so well. It maintains the focus of the story on Alice and her experience of being shamed for having sexual desires. A monumental struggle, especially with a lack of support surrounding her.
The finest moments of the movie occur when on this retreat, as it shows the hypocrisy of these students and the image they put out for others. This retreat has a specific system to make these students vulnerable and ready to have a supposed life-changing experience. As the film outlines, participants must give in their phones and watches, because they’re now on God’s time, almost get obligated to reveal sensitive information with their classmates and group leaders, and get secret letters sent in from their parents. Sweet moments on the surface but completely fabricated in a way to really get these students in a place where they have nowhere to go emotionally but onwards religion. If I sound critical of this retreat it’s because I attended one in high school and brought into the Kool-Aid of it all. I went as a participant and even went back as a group leader as well, and looking back at this as an adult shows the true horror of it all. Yes, God, Yes nails every bit of it perfectly.
As Alice, we have Natalia Dyer, who begins her film career after her breakout success in Stranger Things and she worked impeccably well for this role. The way she utilizes her eyes tells the whole story as it becomes obvious what runs through her head if looking right at them. It demonstrates spectacular acting on her part as she encapsulated the innocence of Alice and just how badly she wants to find sexual gratification. All of the other side characters fit perfectly into the type of person you find attending a Catholic school to a disturbing degree. Watching the film, I could imagine the exact parallel from my experience to what was being portrayed much like Lady Bird managed to achieve.
It came as no surprise this film could capture a completely female perspective seeing Karen Maine wrote and directed the feature. She won me over by contributing to the script of the excellent Obvious Child. This time she tells her own story with her vision and it works so incredibly well. Not knowing much about her personal life, it can easily be assumed she either attended Catholic school or knew someone who did because the accuracy of this work far supersedes what one would think happens in these institutions. She expertly crafts comedically shocking moments to show the strange nature of the events occurring but still keeps an arm around the shoulder of Alice for support. She balances the comedy with the sweetness necessary to tell this story because there are certainly many Catholic school teenagers who feel the same way as Alice and feel ashamed to talk about their sexual desires. Yes, God, Yes allows a look into this serious topic while also having some fun with the ridiculousness of it all.
Running at a brisk 78 minutes, Yes, God, Yes gets right to the point with its story and absolutely nails all aspects of the subject material it took on. The power comes from the authenticity of the experience, as it mocks what gets touted as a life-changing experience, but ultimately looks incredibly manipulative from the outside. The message of just living life without caring for the shame of a bunch of hypocritical people rings well and should be taken in by teenagers across the board. Most teenagers going through puberty will get these sexual desires and burying it deep into the subconscious will only do more harm. A whole and complete vision by Karen Maine, who utilizes Natalia Dyer at her best and creates such a blisteringly hilarious and heartwarming look at repressed female sexuality.