It seems there’s been an increasing trend of films critical of religion and religious conformity specifically over the last decade and that doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon in the 2020s. Case a point, at the end of July a new comedy-drama called “Yes, God Yes” debuted in digital cinemas challenging the idea of what it means to be good or bad specifically critiquing religious purity in Catholicism. Starring Natalia Dyer and written and directed by Karen Maine who expanded on a short film of the same name (also starring Dyer) from 2017, “Yes, God, Yes” is a pretty in-your-face examination of sexual liberation and the coming-of-age experience from the perspective of a Midwest Catholic-raised teen in the early 2000s. Amusing, uncompromising and well performed, “Yes, God, Yes” will certainly make some believers as well as some less religious viewers cringe at its honesty, but in the end that’s exactly the point.
“Yes, God, Yes” stars Natalia Dyer as Alice who attends a Catholic high school in the early 2000s. When a rumor begins to spread that she “tossed the salad” of a popular boy at school the sexually ignorant teen takes to AOL Instant Messenger (God those were the days) where she is introduced to sexual content including masturbation and cybering, the act of having a virtual sexual encounter. Questioning her faith as well as her righteousness, Alice decides to attend a school retreat to a camp operated by the school’s religious leaders and highly respected students only to discover she’s not the only one secretly compromising her conservative teachings. The story culminates in a life lesson for Alice, and the viewers, that what’s right and wrong isn’t always cut and dry and that we as people have the ability to decide what we consider damning or just human nature.
What makes “Yes, God, Yes” stand out for me is that it certainly doesn’t compromise in its rather racy and controversial plot elements including the ideas of masturbation and sexual awakening. Yet it also doesn’t play these elements off completely for laughs. There’s a certain amount of tact and respect for the content that makes the discomfort of watching it hilarious more than the ideas or the act itself. Like many great comedies, what makes this film funny is that we, as people, are uncomfortable with its reality. Seeing Alice explore her sexuality online or, since there’s no point in sugarcoating it, putting her hand down her pants only to hear her mom’s voice in the other room makes us laugh because we feel like we’re privy to private moments we shouldn’t experience. It’s the same kind of discomfort we find in laughing about racism or homophobia when comics talk about it. They are serious subjects and the points that are made are often concerning harsh realities that we should take seriously, but we laugh to release the discomfort of the unfortunate truths behind these jokes. “Yes, God, Yes” uses this tactic perfectly as a way to both subtly mock the conservative religious crowd and their closeted hypocrisy but also how early 2000s teens used movies and the dawn of instant messaging to explore their sexual desires as they matured.
The acting and writing also helps compliment the frankly complex mix of tones this film was going for as it blends coming-of-age drama with uncomfortable true-to-life dry humor. Sharp, thinly veiled critiques of religious close-mindedness never feel pretentious or aggressive. They simply feel real and enlightening challenging the conventions of a faith-based upbringing and how it stunts one’s personal growth while also acknowledging that for some it’s a perfectly fine way to exist. The examination of the behind-the-scenes hypocrisy of certain characters at the camp is really amusing and the genuine innocence exuded from Natalia Dyer’s charming performance and her characters humorous ignorance of sexuality helps bring it all together as we watch her character grow, question and, frankly, mature over time. Add to that the fact that the movie clocks in at a short 78 minutes, refusing to stretch it’s plot or runtime for the sake of a more conventional length, means Karen Maine stuck to her convictions and creative control to provide the story she wanted to tell and it really shows.
While “Yes, God, Yes” will certainly turn off viewers with more respect for religious conservatism, they’re not the crowd the film is made for anyway. This movie is about sexual liberation and awakening in the early 2000s with an eye towards exposing the hypocrisy hidden beneath those who strive to present themselves as higher human beings than those with more open minds. Approaching everything with tact but also an unwavering sense of honesty complimented by charming performances, committed direction and careful writing, “Yes, God, Yes” is definitely a challenging and fun dramady worth checking out.