Writer-director Karen Maine’s debut film conjures laughs, guilt, and nostalgia, particularly for young adults of a certain religious sect, or perhaps more accurately, former members of a religious sect. Yes, God, Yes is unusually sweet for a teen sex comedy, a feat accomplished through Maine’s perceptive script and Stranger Things star Natalie Dyer’s emotive performance. The semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story is refreshingly light fare in a somber year.
In the year 2000, high-school junior Alice (Dyer) attempts to come to terms with her sexuality while those in her orbit discourage her natural urges. Father Murphy (the splendidly cast Timothy Simons, who comedy fans will recognize from Veep and teen-drama fans will recognize from Looking for Alaska) condemns masturbation as a sin. After her educational institutions fail her, Alice turns to the internet, the world’s bastion for sexual truth.
When the school offers a four-day retreat to a remote camp in the woods, Alice and her best friend, Laura (Francesca Reale), sign up. Alice’s time at camp is complicated when a rumor that she tossed her classmate’s salad begins to spread. Alice must clear her name, understand and cope with her sexual desires, and figure out what it means to toss someone’s salad.
Young adults—and particularly Millennials—will feel a pang of sentimentality when Alice boots up her computer to the now-obsolete AOL web portal. She uses the service’s chatrooms to answer movie trivia questions, talk to fellow movie enthusiasts, and engage in cybersex with strangers, as one did in 2000.
The era-specific nostalgia, also recently deployed in Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, is woven into the soundtrack. Collective Soul’s “Shine,” a cover of Christina Aguilera’s “Genie In A Bottle,” and Mandy Moore’s “Candy” reproduce the sounds of the dot-com bubble. Composer Ian Hultquist adds a sincere score, even if the opening bars are eerily similar to the theme of Pixar’s Up.
Maine effectively captures the heightened emotions of youth. The ridiculous and eminently forgettable melodrama that dominates teenage life takes center stage in Yes, God, Yes. She builds up and then ceremoniously tears down the frivolous events that control our high-school years. The movie, unlike any other I’ve seen, chronicles the uncanny period of adolescence where you were embarrassed to have ever been a child. Impressively, Maine does it all in only 78 minutes.
Although Yes, God, Yes isn’t only for recovering Catholics like myself, it will appeal more to those who were raised in stringent, religious households. Alice navigates her sexual awakening through an inept sexual education, the blatant hypocrisy of the powerful adults around her, and her outsized pious guilt. In making a movie about the teenage experience in the 2000s, Maine made a movie about America.