Natalia Dyer worries she’s going to Hell for feeling h*rny in this deliberately un-sexy sex comedy from Karen Maine.
In Yes, God, Yes, a charmingly awkward and semi-autobiographical coming-of-age dramedy written and directed by Karen Maine, Stranger Things’ Natalia Dyer spends most of the 78-minute runtime trying to justify masturbating. You’d think this would be easy enough, but not in the absurdly strict Catholic school she attends, which is so sexually repressed that performing solo is considered sinful and Titanic is somehow a provocative, illicit text. Dyer’s character, Alice, tries to get off to low-res images sent over an AOL chat room, by riding a broom like she’s playing an especially vigorous game of Quidditch, and with the help of a hilariously old mobile phone that vibrates like a pneumatic drill and must presumably weigh half as much as she does.
A lot of this is funny, but all of it is pretty tragic. The school’s hallways are lined with sex-phobic messaging, its lessons are led by priests, and in group photos, all the students are implored to say a happy “Jesus Christ!” right before the snap. Alice believes in the Catholic teachings and is genuinely worried that lusting after Leonardo DiCaprio will result in eternal damnation, so she signs up for a four-day spiritual retreat to tamp down her impure urges. In the meantime, she also launches a low-key investigation into what tossing someone’s salad means, since a rumor is floating around that she performed the act at a party but can’t find anyone willing or able to tell her what the act consists of.
Little about the retreat goes as planned; Yes, God, Yes quickly reveals it as a rural hotbed for secretive sex between students, and Maine explicitly links the adults’ shaming of the students’ natural impulses to their own unresolved sexual issues. A hairy hunk named Chris (Wolfgang Novogratz) roams the wilderness, a perpetual temptation, and an extremely likable lapsed Catholic lesbian played by Susan Blackwell sits on a barstool at the edge of Alice’s known world, like one of those eccentric video game characters who hang around on the outskirts of towns giving people advice. She’s the one who reveals to Alice that there’s a lot more to life than what she’s seen so far. She also knows what tossing salad means.
The only real downside of Yes, God, Yes is a needless R-rating that might well exclude the demographic who’ll get the most out of it. Maine has a great grasp of tone, able to mock what’s absurd about pathologizing sex while also acknowledging the extent to which that kind of repression burdens young people who will buy into anything as long as it’s loosely justified by an old book. The film’s script, also by Maine, is excellent, succeeding in being funny and well-observed and sweet and charming and sincere all at once, symbolic of the mixed messages that Alice herself is forced to grapple with throughout. It speaks to teenagers without patronizing them and has lots to say. I hope despite the rating they get a chance to listen.