Coming of age films are sometimes surrounded in a sort of gauzy haze. They evoke the fuzzy nostalgic feelings of childhood and growing up. It’s a nice idea but all of that nostalgia clouds the fact that some of our most meaningful moments, when growing up, are straight-up messy. YES, GOD, YES does things a little differently and a lot better.
YES, GOD, YES speaks to every awkward, baffling moment of coming into your own and does it with a wry smile. The film is incredibly funny, sensitive without mincing words, and delivers on something real. It makes me wish the film had been around when I was younger.
In YES, GOD, YES, sixteen-year-old Alice is confronted with a shame she has never felt before. Up to her life, she has dutifully fit in with both her conservative Midwest community and her Catholic faith. One fateful day (and we all have had a day like this) an AOL chat turns racy and Alice’s eyes open to a world of masturbation and sexual growth… and the heavy dose of guilt that comes with it.
YES, GOD, YES stars Natalia Dyer (“Stranger Things“), Timothy Simons, Alisha Boe, and Wolfgang Novogratz and is directed by Karen Maine (co-writer of Obvious Child), in her semi-autobiographical debut. Maine bases YES, GOD, YES on her own awkward adolescence and the disconnect between her body and feelings and the rigidity of her Catholic upbringing and limited sex-ed. The film first premiered at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival in Austin, TX, where it won a Special Jury Prize for Best Ensemble.
Let me begin by acknowledging that YES, GOD, YES is “stand up and cheer” excellent. The film is deceptively powerful, leading this critic to belly laugh, tear up, and shriek in both joy and the horror of secondhand embarrassment. As a coming of age story, YES, GOD, YES is brilliantly written and brutally honest.
The real joy is watching this incredible cast perform. Natalia Dyer is absolutely phenomenal and creates simultaneously the nuanced portrayal of an individual teen and a blank canvas on which any young woman could project her own memory of adolescence. Dyer’s Alice is relatable and approachable, but the “stand up and cheer” element comes with the viewer’s intense desire for her to seize some agency. Every member of the ensemble is doing amazing work, as well, creating caricatures that are equal parts funny and familiar. It is really well done.
YES, GOD, YES goes beyond the highly individualized awkwardness of discovering sexuality but speaks eloquently to the world into which our sexuality is born. Through the film, Maine gently introduces moral restrictions within our society. Not just the particular brand of shame that comes with the Catholic church, but the subtle yet powerful expectations perpetuated by our parents, peers, and even the words we used to talk about our sexual experiences.
The film understands every ounce of stigma that teen girls face and stands firmly against it. Additionally, it confronts those stigmas by delving into experiences that many of us have had but would even today be too embarrassed to discuss. Yes, that’s even true for this critic, dear Reader. YES, GOD, YES rewrites the conversation by taking an angle of discovery versus secrecy. Alice is relentlessly curious and may feel shame over the changes happening around her, but that does not mean an end to her personal exploration. This is crucial.
YES, GOD, YES is not just a sex-positive film about teens discovering their bodies. It’s a film about blossoming into the self. For every doubt about her sexual desire, Alice experiences doubt about the larger system she has been raised in. For every question about sex, is a question about who she is and who she will become. For every biased falsehood that someone feeds her about her sexual role in the world, another voice advocates for her pleasure and individuality. By the end of the film, Alice has grown up. Not due to sexual experience or acceptance, but a different loss of innocence – the kind that shapes impressionable teens into strong adults with conviction.
YES, GOD, YES feels like the reassuring squeeze of a savvy older sister. Someone who has been to those low, uncomfortable places and hopes to guide you through with brutal honesty. Empowering and incredibly funny. YES, GOD, YES comes with my highest recommendation.
YES, GOD, YES is available digitally on On-Demand now.