Yes, God, Yes Review
Over twenty years have passed since American Pie became an unexpected pop cultural sensation, and yet the teenage sex comedy remains a decidedly male subgenre. With only a handful of recent exceptions such as Maggie Carey’s raunchy The To-Do List and Kay Cannon’s surprisingly progressive Blockers, teenage girls rarely get the opportunity to have fun exploring their own sexualities onscreen on their own terms.
Expanding on her semi-autobiographical 2017 short film, writer and director Karen Maine has crafted a sweet if unsatisfying coming-of-age story that delivers smiles of recognition rather than out-and-out laughs as it attempts to turn the sex comedy on its head and put female pleasure to the fore.
Sixteen year old Alice (Stranger Things’ Natalia Dyer) is a frustrated Catholic schoolgirl growing up in the midwest in the early 2000s. Her sexual awakening might have begun with rewinding the VHS of Titanic to see Jack and Rose get steamy over and over again, but it begins in earnest when she innocently stumbles into an AOL chatroom that turns unexpectedly X-rated. Thrilled by the discovery of masturbation but trapped by her deeply religious environment and tangled in high school drama, Alice is soon packed off to a religious retreat in the hope of salvation.
Maine is certainly no stranger to controversial topics. She co-wrote the 2016 film Obvious Child starring the then up-and-coming comedian Jenny Slate as a young woman who has an abortion after a one night stand. Obvious Child was remarkable in its understated approach, finding laughter in unlikely places and normalising its protagonist’s choice without finger-wagging moralising. Yes, God, Yes certainly aims for something similar.Ditching the gross-out humour that tends to dominate its genre, the film achieves an earnestness and emotional truth as it shows a teenage girl questioning indoctrinated ideas about sex, sin and shame, though the jokes themselves feel lacklustre.
Still, there’s enough to make Yes, God, Yes very watchable. As Alice, Dyer gets the opportunity to stretch her wings beyond her role in Netflix’s monster hit Stranger Things. Her large, angelic eyes give her a look of natural curiosity and wonder and, like Chloë Grace Moretz as a teen lesbian packed off to a gay conversion camp in 2018’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post, she’s able to navigate Alice’s wavering between confusion and defiance. Veep’s Timothy Simons is enjoyable but criminally underused as a priest tasked with purifying these wayward teens, who, rather unsurprisingly, doesn’t exactly practice what he preaches. Maine can’t resist taking some broad swipes at the Catholic church, but does stay focussed on Alice’s journey from repression to revelation.
This film will certainly resonate most with those who have had a strictly religious upbringing, Catholic or otherwise. Yet female masturbation remains such a forbidden subject that it’s bound to spark memories in anyone who has undergone the profoundly uncomfortable experience of being a teenage girl. At only 78 minutes it feels rather half-finished and we don’t get much of a sense of Alice’s personality beyond her burgeoning horniness, but at its heart is a valuable message about the joy and freedom of female pleasure.
Yes, God, Yes is available on all major UK digital download platforms from August 17.