Alice (Natalia Dyer) attends a Catholic high school. A very Catholic high school. Her days are full of lessons extolling the virtues of chastity and purity, replete with tortured metaphors about how men are like microwave ovens and women are like conventional ovens (they take a while to ‘preheat’(!)). It’s in this environment, after an innocent AOL chat turns racy, that she starts to explore her own sexuality. It’s a scary, confusing, guilt-ridden journey, but after a life-changing weekend at the school retreat – although not life-changing for the reasons her school might have hoped for – she emerges a stronger woman for it.
Who would have thought that a movie billed as a ‘masturbation comedy’ would be so gosh darn sweet? With the exception of a handful of sequences, you could almost watch it with your parents. Despite the subject matter, there’s very little crassness to writer/director Karen Maine’s debut feature. Other themes – sex positivity, religious hypocrisy, the importance of openness – are far more prevalent. Yes, this is first and foremost a comedy, but Yes, God, Yes is a comedy with a lot on its mind.
One of the reasons for the film’s inherent sweetness is Natalia Dyer – best known for playing Nancy Wheeler in Stranger Things – who has the expressive face and enormous eyes of a silent movie star. Yes, God, Yes relies on the expressiveness of Dyer’s face for much of its comedy, in scenes where she is befuddled about various innuendos (she spends the whole film attempting to discover what ‘tossing someone’s salad’ means), or trying to hide her feverish attraction to Chris (Wolfgang Novogratz), a handsome counsellor at her school retreat. Dyer’s performance is lovely and witty, and will hopefully help to expand her horizons beyond the Netflix megahit that made her famous.
The movie is set within the first few years of the new millennium, and people in their late twenties and early thirties are sure to cringe at the specificity with which the era is drawn – speaking from experience, it’s a strange thing to be relatively young and see so many of your childhood memories reflected back at you as if they were the distant past. Before Alice works out that her phone (specifically the vibrate function) can be used for… other purposes, she passes the time playing snake on her Nokia. Christina Aguilera sings ‘Genie In A Bottle’ as our heroine notices the pooka-shell necklace-wearing Chris (and his luxuriant arm hair) for the first time. And of course, AOL chatrooms play a pivotal role in the narrative. Maine imbues Yes, God, Yes with such accurate period detail, it makes Alice’s travails seem even more real.
Yes, God, Yes is a quick, light watch, but its espousal of honesty around the thorny issues of sexuality is sure to be a comfort to legions of confused teenagers everywhere.