The age of adult writers reflecting on their teenage years has now reached the naughts (or whatever we’re calling the 2000s), which means we’re going to be subjected to the fashion and music of that particular decade once again – aren’t we lucky? We’ve had Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird and Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post (which has many parallels with the film in question) both set in this same era and now Karen Maine’s Yes, God, Yes also brings us a coming-of-age tale focused on a teenage girl, dealing with parental pressures and her burgeoning sexuality.
Catholic school girl Alice (Stranger Thing‘s Natalia Dyer) is trying to cope with confusing feelings (eg. the desire to rewind the steamy car scene in Titanic) while having ‘sex education’ lessons from Father Murphy (Veep‘s Timothy Simons), whose only advice boils down to abstinence before marriage, including masturbation. A confusing rumour is spread about Alice, involving tossing salad (?), resulting in her having privileges taken away by teacher Mrs Veda (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend‘s Donna Lynne Champlin) and at home, Alice discovers AOL chat-rooms and sexting. She then goes on a weekend retreat with her best friend Laura (Francesca Reale), where she meets dreamy hunk Chris (Wolfgang Novogratz) and the group leader who seems like a cool role model, Nina (Alisha Boe). While on the retreat, she discovers that almost everyone, from the ‘cool kids’ to the adult leaders, are not practicing what they preach and that hypocrisy is rife within this religious community. Alice manages to escape one night to a local dive bar where she receives some words of wisdom from Gina (Susan Blackwell) over an alcopop.
The degree to which you may find this relatable will depend on two main factors – your age (whether you were a teenager or young adult in the early 2000s) and also if your upbringing and/or schooling was in any way religious. I tick both of these boxes, so found much to enjoy here and will always welcome a coming-of-age film about a teenage girl written and directed by a woman. We are finally starting to see teenage girls represented onscreen in a way which is honest – they are flawed, fully-realised characters and all of the aspects of being a teenage girl (including elements that can be unpleasant or scary) are explored.
The soundtrack contains some period-appropriate bangers, with the best needle-drop being Genie in a Bottle over lingering shots of Chris’ hairy forearms and Candy by Mandy Moore coming in over the closing credits. Finn Wolfhard seems to be the Stranger Things cast-member snapping up all of the plum roles, but Joe Keery has a Sundance film which is coming out shortly (Spree) and here Dyer gives a great central performance. The writing does seem a little inconsistent regarding her age, however, Alice has had a sheltered upbringing of course, but her naivete stretches credulity at times. The other unbelievable aspect is the internet speeds which seem extremely high for the time and there is a distinct lack of buffering for an isolated area surrounded by woods and lakes.
Overall, this is an exciting feature debut from Karen Maine, who co-wrote the brilliant Obvious Child starring Jenny Slate and Jake Lacy (Gillian Robespierre, 2014). Her humour and insight comes through again here, this time in exposing the hypocrisies inherent in a system designed to shame teenagers (particularly teenage girls) for their natural urges. She also gets how much of a recipe for disaster it is to put a group of teenagers together, in church youth groups or even more so, on retreats and then tell them not to touch themselves or each other. A brisk and breezy 75 minute watch, which is funny and also has something to say – Yes, God, Yes is recommended viewing for the many of us who aren’t looking necessarily looking for epic tragedies at the moment.
Directed by: Karen Maine
Written by: Karen Maine
Cast: Natalia Dyer, Christian Adam, Susan Blackwell, Alisha Boe