Film review: Yes, God, Yes

Henry Tolley
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A gentle coming-of-age drama steeped in early ’00s nostalgia, Yes, God, Yes deals with progressive ideals in a trite but comfortable fashion. If you’re in the mood for a dose of high school nostalgia that won’t leave you quivering with trauma then this is the Sunday night film for you.

In Karen Maine’s latest feature, we are introduced to the dewy-eyed Alice, a high school girl who cleaves to the sexless piousness of Catholicism which her school thrusts upon her. That is until she stumbles into a racy AOL chat that introduces her to the wonder of those A/S/L conversations that some of us remember all too well. 

Upon discovering masturbation and being overwhelmed with guilt, she seeks redemption and attends a mysterious religious retreat to try and suppress her confusing new urges. Alice learns that this is practically impossible and comes to the realisation she need not suppress her urges in the face of religious dogma.

As the plot unfolds, it soon becomes apparent that Yes, God, Yes can be labelled an easy watch. Plodding along at a digestible pace, viewers may find themselves yearning for a morsel of action to gag on at times. Maine’s feature-length does not profess to be a Nolan-style blockbuster, but the path this high school drama travels feels somewhat well-trodden.

However, for the tepid high school plot we are given, Dyer’s performance colours in Alice’s character well enough to keep audiences engaged during its terse 80-minute runtime. Alice is a meek girl and Dyer does well to make her relatable, delivering a balance of rebelliousness and naivety. Dyer over-acts at times, however, with her simpering lip quivers becoming slightly infuriating. Her performance is not entirely removed from that of Stranger Things, and so one can see why she was cast.

Dyer dominates the screen for the majority of the film’s runtime, but there are some other performances of note from secondary characters. The sternness and hilariousness of Mrs. Veda (Donna Lynne Champlin) contribute to the comedic vein that keeps the film from slipping into sleep mode. One can feel the echoes of Sue Sylvester about her, although the film does not have the scope to allow the character to move beyond intermittent comic relief.

Comedy aside, sexual liberation is the dish of the day for Maine and it is served somewhat lukewarm. Shaking off the shackles of religious oppression is not an avant-garde concept, so portraying this narrative in a fresher way would have made it more unique and noteworthy. That being said, one can see how Yes, God, Yes would be cathartic for a young person experiencing the same kind of oppressive upbringing – not just in the Midwest, but globally.

Another positive note of the film comes in the form of a brief yet poignant nod to the queer community. Before embracing her sexuality, Alice finds herself in a queer bar where she receives some helpful advice from an older queer person. The portrayal of a queer space as a place to find emotional council and parental pedagogy is a welcome depiction that is often overlooked in film. 

While these places, be they bars or community centres, may seem purely recreational, they are sources of enlightenment and guidance for young people – queer and non-queer alike. Maine’s understanding of this is clear and this scene adds a sense of size to the plot, showing Alice that there is more to life than the parameters she finds herself trapped in.

Culminating in a sweet but lacklustre speech from Alice at her mysterious retreat, the film bears a positive message of sexual liberation by its end. You may not find yourself learning anything new from Yes, God, Yes, but the early ’00s nostalgia is reason enough to give it a go. I mean, using a Nokia brick as a vibrator is undeniably iconic.

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