I attended the premiere screening of Yes, God, Yes, back at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival. As a dedicated festival-goer, I try to attend as many screenings and conduct as many interviews as one can during a festival. While it’s great to see so many films in such a short period of time, the downside is that I often struggle to review the majority of movies I see during a festival. Yes, God, Yes was a film I really wanted to review but didn’t end up doing so due to time constraints. However, now that the film is available to watch at select drive-in theaters, Virtual Cinemas, and to rent or buy on demand, I had a chance to revisit the movie and review it.
Yes, God, Yes marks the directorial debut of Karen Maine. If that name sounds somewhat familiar, it is probably because Maine co-wrote the Sundance Film Festival breakout hit, Obvious Child starring Jenny Slate. While Maine is still somewhat new to storytelling and filmmaking, I firmly believe between her work on Obvious Child and now, Yes, God, Yes, we will be seeing a lot more from her soon. Yes, God, Yes is a personal film as it is semi-autobiographical. When Maine and I recently spoke, she told me that about 90% of what happens in the movie actually took place in her life. This could be why the film isn’t just fierce and funny but also incredibly honest in its depiction of sexual discovery and religious hypocrisy.
Set in the earlier days of the internet, Yes, God, Yes follows a Catholic teenager named Alice (Natalia Dyer) who happens to discover masturbation through a random chat on AOL instant messenger. This unexpected sexual encounter leaves Alice feeling guilty and confused. Soon after the interaction, Alice begins to question her faith as she feels judgment from those around her. Alice ultimately ends up attending a retreat where she hopes to wash away her sins but instead comes to understand her body as well as who she is as a person.Yes, God, Yes might be a coming of age tale, but it is one that feels fresh because it is told from a distinctive point of view and one that we aren’t used to seeing. What makes the film even more standout is the fact that the story isn’t overly sexual, and the script doesn’t go for cheap or easy laughs. Yes, God, Yes stands out amongst other films in this genre thanks to how authentic and awkward it is.
As someone who loves coming-of-age films, the majority of films in this genre are typically centered around males. The lack of female-driven coming-of-age films, especially those released by major studios, has become more and more apparent in recent years. Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird and Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart are the two rare mainstream female-centric entries to have been released in the past decade. And even then, both of those films were released by smaller studios. Luckily, in the independent film world, we have gotten a lot more female-led coming-of-age movies, both comedies and dramas. Yes, God, Yes feels right at home amongst such indie cult classics as Saved!, But I’m A Cheerleader, Summer ’03, and The Miseducation of Cameron Post, just to name a few.
Maine’s script has no problem poking fun at religion, but it does so in such a smart and sophisticated way. The film isn’t anti-religion but rather showcases how some of the film’s religious characters are lying to themselves about how they truly feel. It is almost like they are so concerned with the concept of committing a sin that they fail to acknowledge that they are bottling up their feelings and urges. This is a comedy about religious repression and one that is grounded in truth, given the fact that it is based on actual events from Maine’s life growing up in the midwest. Most of the adults, including Father Murphy (portrayed brilliantly by Timothy Simons), are shown as judgemental rather than helpful. They seem almost out of touch and unaware of what it is even like to be a teenager with sexual urges. Some of the things that are said in this film are absolutely absurd, but they end up showcasing how disconnected some of these adults are from actual reality.
As for Natalia Dyer, who is best known for playing Nancy Wheeler on Netflix’s Stranger Things, is perfectly cast as Alice. Dyer carries the weight of the entire film on her shoulders and does so with such ease. Dyer’s performance is highly nuanced, as her character struggles with her faith while trying to understand her sexuality. You can see that throughout the film, Alice is juggling a range of emotions while trying to act the way that others want her to. She is afraid to speak up and be honest because she doesn’t want to deal with the consequences and backlash. Alice is shy and reserved, but throughout the film discovers that what she is feeling is completely normal despite what the adults and her peers are telling her. Dyer brings all of this to life in such a natural and honest way. She truly makes the character of Alice her own and delivers a superb performance.
Yes, God, Yes gets a strong recommendation from me. This is a refreshingly hilarious and honest comedy that doesn’t Hollywoodize sexual discovery. The fact that Karen Maine’s used her own sexual awakening story to make this film makes it not only bold but also authentic. Top the solid direction and whip-smart script off with a wonderful and multilayered performance by Natalia Dyer, and you have one excellent indie film. Be sure to keep your eyes on Karen Maine because she is a filmmaker with a very bright future ahead of her.