Teen sex comedies have come a long way since the bawdy and, let’s face it, sexist days of the 1980 and 1990s. The majority of those featured male characters on a quest to lose their virginity or, at the very least, find an outlet for their ever-growing libido. It’s only been in the last few years, with films like Blockers, Booksmart, and now Yes, God, Yes that teen girls have been given their own showcases in the genre.
Natalia Dyer of Stranger Things fame stars as Alice, who attends a Catholic high school that seems to have a preoccupation with sex, mostly on the anti side. Alice and her classmates, including best friend Laura (Francesca Reale), banter constantly about sex with barely any idea about what to do or what some racy terms actually mean. Meanwhile, they are subjected to sex ed classes led by Father Murphy (Timothy Simons) that go into intricate detail about the desires of boys and girls, only to insist that abstinence is the only acceptable route if they want to please God.
Alice, who’s subjected to false rumors about a sexual encounter with a boy, is massively confused about the conflicting messages she’s receiving. She starts her exploration through an online chat with an anonymous stranger, and slowly but surely ramps up her search, even while she’s away at a church retreat. The push and pull between what her religion wants her to do and what her body is telling her is important threatens to drive her crazy.
Written and directed by Karen Maine, who has a story credit on another button-pusher, Obvious Child, the film toes a fine line between being curious and being exploitative. With a setting of the early 2000s, the early scene with an anonymous online stranger gives off a queasy feeling, but Maine makes sure not to dwell on it, instead focusing on Alice’s unique urges.
Similarly, even though Alice gives in to some self-love on a few occasions, the scenes are relatively chaste, with the only nudity coming courtesy of some online images and videos. Maine is more concerned with giving Alice the space to try to get all of her questions answered instead of objectifying her or giving the impression that she’s doing something wrong.
Instead, the entire film is a condemnation of the hypocrisy of the teachings of the Catholic Church, with the leaders being some of the biggest hypocrites. Being a comedy, it keeps things on the light side, juxtaposing the self-righteousness of the supposed biggest believers with actions that severely undercut those beliefs.
Dyer is an ideal person to play such an innocent yet inquisitive character. She has the look of someone who’s never stepped over the line in her whole life, so when she does run afoul of others, the push and pull of desire and guilt is palpable. Supporting actors like Alisha Boe and Wolfgang Novogratz play pious-but-not-spotless characters well, while Simons knocks the crucial role of Father Murphy out of the park.
Taking inspiration from her own life, Maine gives a unique twist on a teen sex comedy while also exposing the fact that many authority figures don’t practice what they preach. Consequently, Yes, God, Yes is a small film that winds up delivering outsized rewards.
Yes, God, Yes is screening via select virtual cinemas on July 24. It will debut on VOD/digital options like Vudu, Apple TV, and Google Play on July 28.