“Yes, God, Yes,” directed by Karen Maine, is a deceivingly simple film, utilizing its minimal plot to tell a complex story. Few would call “Yes, God, Yes” ambitious, especially since the film clocks in at a modest 78 minutes, shorter than some episodes of Netflix’s most banal content, a la “13 Reasons Why.” However, where many of these most trite and sickeningly insipid films and series fail to capture any level of authenticity in portraying the high school experience, “Yes, God, Yes” is refreshingly honest and confrontational.
The film follows Alice, played by Natalia Dyer, a timid high school junior with a burgeoning sex drive. She attends a highly conservative Catholic school, where the crux of her sexual education class is that any sexual activity outside of a heterosexual marriage is an abhorrent sin worthy of eternal damnation. She is also taught the primary purpose of sexual intimacy is for the procreation of children, and the sexualities of men and women are fundamentally different. Men are more like an “on or off switch,” whereas women are “like ovens,” requiring ample time to warm up. Remembering this analogy, she believes her seemingly constant state of being turned-on is a defect, and thus tries to do everything to suppress it.
She thus decides to attend a spiritual retreat, thinking that getting closer to God will help to cure her of her affliction, which leads to some of the most creative and daring, cringeworthy moments found in a comedy in recent memory. These gags aren’t just simply set up to make us laugh at how uncomfortable they are, they exist to bring the sometimes painful truths of adolescence to light. They are the kinds of scenes which make the viewer feel as if they are being intrusive due to how extremely personal they are.
Dyer is convincing as Alice, who has no concept of boundaries, as she knows very little about herself and her sexuality. This part of the story could have easily been exploited for cheap laughs, but instead Maine uses them to help us understand Alice and her confusion better. All she knows is that she has an intense urge to seek sexual fulfilment at pretty much every moment of this retreat, and she is willing to risk all kinds of humiliation to get it. The film asks you to relate to and understand her, not laugh at her.
This is in sharp contrast to a number of teen sex comedies with overly sexual humor that use their subject matter to cheaply subvert cultural constructions of sex for a low brow attempt at comedy. It is because of Maine’s approach of sympathetic humor that we are able to actually feel everything that she is feeling, resulting in a warm portrait of adolescence. We want her to be free of this burden of guilt, which seems so unnecessarily placed on her. Her character arc is not only relatable, but cathartic as she comes to terms with the fact that the people who fear-monger over her only have as much authority over her as she lets them.
All of us have had experiences similar to those of Alice, where we realize that no one has the answers. All we can do is try to be empathetic, understanding and kind in a world where every decision one makes will inevitably be labeled as wrong or disordered by some individual or institution. Sometimes we need films like this one to remind us that true contentment is found in authentic living and not in validation.