Yes, God, Yes brings back memories for me, because it is set at a Catholic school spiritual retreat in the early 2000s. I went to a Catholic school about 10 years before this, and while I managed to avoid the weekend-long affairs, I was taken on my share of mandated school trips to the desert, where we were supposed to find God. Unlike the one in this movie, my school was boys-only, an experience that forever turned me off gender-segregated education. Also, instead of being surrounded by true believers, I was surrounded by trust-fund kids who regarded the place as a stop on the way to an Ivy League school. Since I didn’t have a trust fund, it left me good and alienated in ways that have been healthy and unhealthy. I had a sex-education class there given by the P.E. teacher, which was way less weird than it would have been if a priest had given it. I mention all of this because I think this movie captures the experience of Catholic school, even if it’s deficient in other areas. It’s on streaming services this week.
Natalia Dyer plays Alice, a high-school sophomore somewhere in middle America who leads an ordinary life until a rumor starts going around that she gave a tossed salad to a guy in her class (Zachary Forsythe). She doesn’t even know what that is, but the whole school promptly slut-shames her, including the boy in question, who has traded promise bracelets with another girl. Not helping: Alice reacts to the teasing by licking chocolate pudding off the lid of her cup. Once she goes on that retreat, she uses the computer in the priest’s office to research the sexual term and winds up in an AOL chatroom talking to people with screen names like Hairychest1969. She’s shocked, and yet the experience kicks something loose when it comes to recognizing her own sexual urges.
This is the first feature directed by Karen Maine, who was a co-writer on the abortion dramedy Obvious Child, and who adapts this from an earlier short film that she made. This might lead you to expect a raunchfest, but this film is surprisingly tame. On one hand, it makes sense that the sexual humor is relatively dialed back, since Alice is a devout Christian who is trying to reconcile her beliefs with her desire for that first orgasm. On the other hand, after the likes of Booksmart, this film can’t help but look timid by comparison. Maybe we don’t need Alice to participate in a full-on orgy, but we could use more than our protagonist rubbing herself against the handle of a broom while staring at a strapping student volunteer (Wolfgang Novogratz).
Maine shows us the priest (Timothy Simons) preaching the church’s rigid dogma about sex, but offers up no comment or even any funny jokes about how someone like Alice might take it. I really wish Alice had lowered the boom on her judgmental-as-hell best friend (Alisha Boe) who quickly cuts her loose when the rumors start up. The movie makes use of period-appropriate musical cues — Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle,” Collective Soul’s “Shine” — but when a character watches a porn video online, there’s no way that internet video quality was that good in the early ’00s.
Having said all this, at 78 minutes, this does not feel like a short film that’s been padded out to feature length. Maine has some nifty jokes about Alice’s lack of experience; when Hairychest1969 messages her, “ur soaking wet,” she replies, “You’re wet too.” The diminutive Dyer (she plays Nancy on Stranger Things) is in her early 20s but looks a great deal younger, and she’s well-cast as a teen who gives off the impression that butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. She’s reprising her role from the short film, so it’s no surprise that she’s locked into character, especially in the wordless scenes when Alice navigates the nascent online world without knowing what she’s in. Yes, God, Yes does not challenge Saved! as the best movie about Christian education, but it does make a diverting watch.
Starring Natalia Dyer. Written and directed by Karen Maine. Rated R.