Yes, God, Yes: An Excellent, if Overdone, Coming of Age Story (2020)


Alice stumbles into an explicit AOL Chatroom 
Image Courtesy of IndieWire

Based on the short film by the same name, Karen Maine’s Yes, God, Yes, explores a young Catholic girl’s sexual awakening, and the conflict between her faith and new desires. This film follows Alice (Natalia Dyer), a girl in high school who is the victim of a malicious rumor that she “tossed Wade’s salad” at a party. For those unsure of the meaning of this term, the introduction of the film provides a helpful definition, otherwise Urban Dictionary can supply an answer. Alice’s awakening comes amid her sexual education classes taught by Fr. Murphy (Timothy Simons), who presents a Catholic perspective on sexuality, one focused on abstinence and marriage, entirely ignoring female pleasure while addressing male desires. Alice heads off to a retreat in the woods with her class to deepen their relationship with Christ where Alice meets Chris (Wolfgang Novogratz), an older high schooler who she develops an intense crush on. Much of the internal plot of the film revolves around Alice reconciling her newly discovered sexuality with the social pressures around her to remain chaste and pure.

This is a classic coming of age story that follows a slightly predictable formula, focusing on the battle between society and the pressures religious authority can impose on self-discovery. All the figures in Alice’s life are sending one message while she is starting to think in a different direction. Her confusions burst out in ways that baffle those around her, leading her into further trouble and mischief.

Alice and Chris having an awkward interraction
Image Courtesy of WBUR

One of the most compelling characters in the film is Gina (Susan Blackwell), who runs a lesbian bar Alice stumbles into. Gina and Alice’s conversation serves to affirm Alice’s questions, and is one of the few moments in the film where an adult is fully truthful to Alice. She repeatedly witnesses the people in her life fail at the lessons they try to instill, including her priest, parents, and friends. Although the revelations Alice receives are common to many coming of age stories, that nobody really knows what they’re doing, it felt earned, and fresh given Alice’s experiences in the rest of the film.

One of the aspects that pulled me out of the film slightly was the pacing. The movie felt very fast paced at times and could have used some scenes between acts to aide in transitions. There are even some minor continuity errors that suggest there were scenes cut without reshoots to adjust for the breaks in the story. Although noticeable, the breaks do not cause so much confusion that the plot becomes obscured.

The choice to add voiceover at key moments to remind Alice of lessons that contradict what she is experiencing also drew me out of the moment. It broke the flow of the scene, and often times the connection to the lesson and the current predicament was apparent enough that the voiceover was unnecessary.

Where this film was most successful was in the way it portrayed the way high schoolers on the verge of discovering sex discuss it, and in its use of innuendo. The phrase “tossing salad” runs the whole movie as a part of the rumor spread about Alice. This brought me back to post sex-ed conversations in middle and high school that always seemed to involve the phrase: “you don’t know what ______ is?” insert any strange exotic sex act into the blank. Anyone professing knowledge about these secrets was seen as more adult, while nobody would dare admit to not knowing one of the terms. This film captured the awkwardness of talking about sex for the first time, and ignorant knowledge of those who pretended to be more experienced than they actually were.

The film also contained numerous innuendos to sex in the everyday language and activities that Alice and the other kids in her class did at the camp. This was done to capture what can almost be seen as the existential revelation the discovery of sex is to a teenager. Certain phrases and actions take on a new meaning, and with sex on the brain everything becomes an innuendo. Karen Maine handled this very well by allowing some innuendos to sit in the background where the audience can experience them, but the characters are still oblivious while other times the innuendo becomes a source of tension.  

This film was a great exploration of the social and religious pressures young woman face when they are discovering their sexuality. Not only that, it was entertaining and despite dealing with a heavy subject matter, quite funny throughout. I was drawn in by the humor and stayed for the message.

-Patrick Bernas