FILM REVIEW – YES, GOD, YES. With Natalia Dyer, Alisha Boe, Timothy Simons, Donna Lynne Champlin, Wolfgang Novogratz. Written and directed by Karen Maine. Rated R for sexual content and some nudity. 78 minutes. Available via The Cape Ann Community Cinema’s CACC@HOME Virtual Cinema, on digital, on demand.
Onan the conqueror
A successful movie can be specific and universal at the same time. As an older Jewish man, this reviewer is clearly not the target audience for YES, GOD, YES, the new coming-of-age comedy about a teenage Catholic girl. Yet in spite of things that might especially resonate for parochial school alumni, nearly everyone should be able to relate to this tightly-written story of an adolescent grappling with a variety of conflicting messages about sexuality.
Alice (Natalia Dyer) is a “good” girl, whose idea of sinning is re-watching a sexy scene from “Titanic.” She is the target of a mean rumor about performing a sex act that not only isn’t true, but she doesn’t even know what it means. As a way to get control of her life, she goes on a four-day school retreat that promises to be a life-changing experience. It is a way to bond with friends, strengthen one’s faith, and face some personal truths.
It proves to be challenging. She finds herself drawn to hunky Chris (Wolfgang Novogratz), one of the senior counselors at the retreat. She gets into trouble for holding onto her cell phone against camp rules. She also finds that a lot of the people presented to her as role models are hypocrites, including cabin leader Nina (Alisha Boe) and Father Murphy (Timothy Simons), separately espied in compromising situations.
Through it all, Alice finds it hard to control her own libido, even though she’s instructed early on that “sex with one’s self” is a sin. As she comes to see that her peers are often as confused and conflicted as she is, she also sees that even adults who aren’t hypocrites still have to struggle. Mrs. Veda (Donna Lynn Champlin) is first seen in the school hall imposing unflinching rules, like citing a boy who neglected to wear a belt with his pants. Gina (Susan Blackwell), an older woman who is both out and ex-Catholic, provides some sympathetic advice, suggesting Alice consider broadening her horizons by applying to coastal colleges rather than the local state school, while not pushing the young girl to her own point of view.
The cast is wonderful, although most known mostly for their TV work, including Dyer (“Stranger Things”), Boe (“13 Reasons Why”), Champlin (“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”), and Simons (“Veep”). Credit goes to writer/director Karen Maine, who co-wrote the 2014 arthouse hit “Obvious Child,” as well as Dyer in making a movie about a teenage girl’s sexual explorations neither titillating nor smarmy. Instead, viewers–male or female, Catholic or not–are more likely to wince and/or smile in recognition and wonder, “Was I ever that naïve?”
Yes, we all were at some point in our lives, and “Yes, God, Yes” navigates that tightrope by telling a story not about entering adulthood but instead focusing on that tiny moment of revelation when you discover that the world is a lot more complicated than you realized and there is so much to learn.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.