Yes, God, Yes Review: Dyer nails it in this fresh coming of age comedy
Expanding on her 2017 short film of the same name, writer/director Karen Maine creates a unique kind of coming of age story with Yes, God, Yes.
The film follows Alice (Natalia Dyer) – a Midwest teen attending a very strict Catholic school that’s always been considered to be a “good Catholic girl.” However, after she finds herself in dirty AOL chat, she discovers masturbation and is riddled with guilt over what her friends would think since it goes against their religious values. In order to rid herself of this guilt and find redemption, Alice decides to attend a popular retreat but struggles to suppress her sexual urges – especially when a cute boy starts to flirt with her. Desperate for guidance and shamefully ridiculed by those around her about a rumor that’s been spreading, Alice attempts to make her way through the retreat as she garners a new view for even the most devout and ends up finding guidance from an unlikely ally.
Even since seeing her in Stranger Things and having her be one of my favorite parts of it, I’ve been anxiously awaiting to see Dyer in something that lets her talents stand alone and Yes, God, Yes ends up being the perfect film for that. As Alice, Dyer creates this kind of guilt, unknowingness, and slight embarrassment that viewers can easily relate to and carries some kind of nostalgia because of the film’s early 2000’s time setting. Alice being obsessed with rewinding her VHS of Titanic to the sex scene, getting caught in some racy AOL chats, and trying to distract herself with some games of Snake just hit this level of nostalgia that’s organic and the sexual nature behind them is a unique look back at this time. That’s right, Maine makes sure you never look at things like vibrating old-school cell phones and foot massagers the same ever again. It’s a really great era to call back to and Dyer also utilizes this nostalgia to deliver a timeless, genuine performance that’s elevated and understood better through how Maine establishes Alice’s Catholic upbringing.
Right from the opening scene of Alice’s teacher Mrs. Veda (Donna Lynn Champlin) storming through the halls and handing out detention slips for uniform errors, it’s easy to see the strict atmosphere of Alice’s Catholic upbringing. At times, it’s almost as if you can feel God’s presence’s silently judging her through everyone else judging her and basically establishing the ideology that anything that’s against God’s views is a one-way ticket to Hell. From the classroom lesson that Alice is getting from Father Murphy (Timothy Simons) about sex to how people judge her for a rumor that spreads about her “tossing someone’s salad,” which is really funny because she doesn’t even known what it means, it’s clear there’s this driving force that’s constantly instilling guilt in Alice even though she’s going through a transition that everyone goes through.
Things are only made worse for her through the careless and unstoppable rumor mill that is high school, and this aspect of the film also fleshes out the toxic atmosphere of high school that’s even found and somewhat heightened in a Catholic setting. Obviously, after the rumor about Alice starts to spread, she’s subjected to an awful amount of judging from students and teachers alike, slut-shaming, and just being looked down upon by everyone like she has some sort of problem. However, the strict Catholic atmosphere adds another layer to Alice’s mistreatment as she’s stripped of her mass duties by Mrs. Veda and is constantly guilted into trying to get the approval of her friend Laura and other students. There’s even this passive aggressive tone to it all that almost hurts even more than the direct scrutiny she faces and it’s made even more clear how it stems from a place of toxic masculinity after a male student is immediately labeled as “gay” by his classmates after a rumor spreads about him. With all of this, Maine creates a unique look at high school and its toxicity that’s heightened by Catholic values.
Yes, God, Yes doesn’t just boast a strong showing of high school toxicity though as Maine delivers some awesome coming of age comedy that Dyer and the rest of the cast totally thrive in. There’s plenty of funny sexual innuendos that go around, moments of sexual pleasure at inconvenient times, and an overload of peppiness that is just plain unreal. Chris (Wolfgang Novogratz), a student leader at the retreat that Alice starts to have a crush on, ended up being one of my favorite characters and performances because of how genuinely upbeat he is and how much he’s blinded by his bliss. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “they’re drinking the kool-aid,” Chris and the rest of the retreat leaders have the “kool-aid” coursing through their veins. Honestly, Dyer is a true coming of age comedy queen here as she expresses all of Alice’s confusion, worry, and unsureness in a way that’s hilarious and viewers will definitely see a little bit of themselves in her.
The way all of this comes together to create a strong turning point for Alice is truly the best though as it’s unique and comes off very real. While Alice’s big moment to tell her classmates how she feels isn’t as strong, the moment Alice has with an unlikely ally is excellent and very fulfilling as the two discuss the cornering nature of the Catholic values that have driven their lives. It’s a turning point that has a real impact that can be felt all over the film’s great end. Alice really takes this new lease on life to heart and we actually get to see some satisfying changes as she takes control of her own life. Not to mention, there’re excellent final interactions between Chris and Father Murphy that make you want to stand up and cheer and leave things on the perfect high note.
With Yes, God, Yes, Maine provides a unique coming of age tale about teenage sexuality that features an excellent showing of Dyer’s talents through the film’s equally excellent writing. It’s funny, fresh, and thoroughly thought-provoking by delving into an aspect of growing up that no one really talks about, but everyone goes through and it’s all what makes it an absolute must-watch.