Yes, God, Yes (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): The little sexual awakening of one Christian girl

“Yes, God, Yes” is a little coming-of-age comedy film which turns out to be more considerate and thoughtful than you may expect from its very title. While surely generating some good laughs from its adolescent Christian heroine’s gradual sexual awakening, the movie also regards her and several other figures around her with some understanding and tolerance, and we come to smile a bit as she becomes a little more opened to life and sex in the end.

At the beginning, the movie, which is incidentally set around the late 1990s, quickly establishes the religiously conservative environment surrounding Alice (Natalia Dyer). a plain Catholic high school girl who has dutifully and exemplarily followed the rules and commandments of her Catholic church since her childhood years. While she and many other students frequently hear from their teachers on why they must stick to sexual abstinence before getting married, Alice is still curious about sex from time to time just like many other adolescent boys and girls around her age, and there is a small amusing moment when she happens to receive a naughty photograph via the Internet. She does not know much about sex, but she cannot help but look at that photograph with curiosity and fascination, and she even tries an online chat with someone willing to have a salacious conversation with her.

Meanwhile, there comes an unexpected trouble to her on one day. Before they go to her school together, Alice’s best friend informs Alice that there is a dirty rumor about Alice, and it soon turns out that everyone in the school knows the rumor, which is incidentally about what allegedly happened between Alice and one of male students in the school during one evening party. Although nothing much happened between them at that time as a matter of fact, everyone believes that she did ‘tossing the salad’ for that boy, and she is utterly flabbergasted as she does not even know what ‘tossing the salad’ really means.

Because the movie already explained to us the meaning of that phrase at the very beginning, we surely get some little laughs from Alice’s absurd plight, but the movie never overlooks how much her school life is affected by that mean rumor. Unlike that male student, Alice is frequently ridiculed by many other students, and her teachers also become less friendly to her. As a result, she comes to feel more guilty about sex and desire than before, and that is the main reason why she goes to a school retreat, where she and other students can spend four days under the spiritual guidance of Father Murphy (Timothy Simons) and several model students working under him.

As Alice begins her first day at the school retreat along with a number of other students including her best friend, she sincerely hopes that she will find some answer and guidance during next four days, but, not so surprisingly, that turns out to be not so easy at all. That rumor is still attached to her as usual, and she is even demanded to confess during her private interview with Father Murphy, who can be your average casual dude but firmly sticks to his religious belief and principles nonetheless. Furthermore, there is a hunky male student whose certain physical aspect arouses Alice’s sexual desire right from their first official encounter, and she is certainly filled with more guilt and fear as thinking more of him.

It is not much of a spoiler to tell you that Alice comes to discover what some of other characters in the story have been hiding behind their supposedly exemplary appearance, but the screenplay by director/writer Karen Maine, which is based on her 2017 short film of the same name, never goes for cheap laughs. While it can be said that many of supporting characters revolving around Alice are more or less than broad Christian archetypes, the movie does not ridicule or judge them at all, and their hypocrisy amusingly reminds us again of how religions have pathetically failed to control and suppress human nature for many years.

Around the end of the story, our heroine is surely confused and disillusioned a lot, but then the movie leads her into a certain place she never knew before. While still not having any idea on what this place really is, she happens to come across a middle-aged woman who was once a girl not so different from her, and their following conversation becomes quite touching as that lady imparts some valuable life lessons to Alice.

As the center of the film, Natalia Dyer, who has been mainly known for her supporting performance in Netflix drama series “Stranger Things”, balances her performance well between comedy and drama, and she is believable in her character’s gradual emotional maturation along the story, Although nothing much is changed around Alice on the surface, we can sense how much she is changed after her emotional journey, and it is both funny and moving to see how she becomes more comfortable with her burgeoning sexuality in addition to being more serious about the life ahead of her. In case of several supporting cast members in the film, they fill their roles with some life and personality, and Timothy Simons is particularly effective in his certain brief scene with Dyer around the end of the story.

“Yes, God, Yes” is the first feature film directed by Maine, who was one of the writers behind short film “Obvious Child” (2009) and its 2014 feature film version. Considering how the story and characters are succinctly and effectively handled within very short running time (78 minutes), she is a competent filmmaker to say the least, and it will be interesting to see what may come next from her in the future.

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