The teen sex comedy isn’t a rarity within the studio system, but they are often quite outlandish enough that they never entirely ring true regarding the situations they’d like teenagers to relate to. Weighing down the high concept mentality so often adopted by the genre, Yes, God, Yes is that rare beast that hopes to play it as true as possible.
Another of writer/director Karen Maine‘s short films adapted to feature-length (her previous effort Obvious Child was made into a Jenny Slate-led feature in 2014), Yes, God, Yes is an honest – at times, almost brutally so – but consistently amusing comedy-drama hybrid detailing the sexual awakening and reckoning of a Midwest teenager who’s constantly battling her own urges against the Catholicism she believes she must adhere to.
Said Midwestern teenager is Alice (Stranger Things‘ Natalia Dyer), a likeable, relatable pre-senior who, in the early 2000’s, is struggling through her burgeoning sexual desires, especially as they conflict with the strict rules she believes she must abide by through her Catholic education. Following the spread of a rather dirty rumour at school (one she’s unfortunately involved in, despite being distinctly unaware of what the circulating sex act actually is) and further prompted by her own guilt after reluctantly agreeing to an AOL cyber-sex chat session, Alice attends a religious-fuelled weekend retreat in the hopes that she’ll perhaps be cleansed of her sins.
In a more mainstream, less intelligent film, the retreat and its strict religious temperament would give way for an archetypal Alice to completely break free of the chained restrictions she feels bound by. Sexually-charged hijinks would ensue and she’d learn to embrace her “sinful” nature, all before a generationally-relevant pop song plays us out. And though Yes, God, Yes does tinker with Alice’s gradual freedom to accepting her sexual urges – and we do get a great pop song over the end credits (hint: it’s peak 2000’s pop in the sweetest way possible) – Maine knows how to craft her story and her characters in a far more authentic manner.
In a telling scene of just how delicate Alice is, when she arrives at the camp for the weekend and first meets youth leader Chris (Wolfgang Novogratz), their interaction appears so mild yet is underscored with such eroticism that it masterfully sums up Alice’s own desires, as well as highlighting Maine’s ability at relatable authenticity; the scene in question follows Alice’s gaze and hands as she admires Chris’s strapping hairy arms, all to the sounds of a stripped-back cover of Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle” – an appropriate accompaniment if ever there was one for a movie set in the early 2000’s detailing a teenage girl’s raging hormones.
Being set in a community where righteousness runs rampant, it’s a testament to Maine’s script and the film’s ensemble that the majority of characters never run the risk of alienating us an audience. Whilst some of them practice the hypocritical nature you expect to come with those supposedly acting under religious rule (Veep‘s Timothy Simons is particularly interesting as one of the retreat’s leading priests), there’s a natural delivery to all involved that avoids the players ever suffocating under the community’s mindset. And navigating the film with precision is Dyer as Alice, admirably carrying the story with nobility and grace, effortlessly embodying the inquisitive, softly-rebellious nature of a teenager just trying to understand her own self.
Whilst Yes, God, Yes may not be the laugh-out-loud “sex” comedy you expect, its honesty in portraying the oft-embarrassing feelings that teenagers deal with on a daily basis earn it an engrossment it may not have managed had it fallen on expected tropes. A quieter film for the US summer market (though, right now, any new film offering is as good as any), but no less entertaining, Yes, God, Yes is a brisk, neatly-packaged offering that should charm its viewers, whether they’re the target audience or not.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Yes, God, Yes is currently screening in virtual cinemas and drive-ins across the United States. It will be available on digital and VOD from July 208th 2020. An Australian release date is yet to be confirmed.