[Review] ‘YES, GOD, YES’ a Catholic girl’s guide to sex education

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Travis Leamons // Film Critic

YES, GOD, YES

Rated R, 78 minutes.
Director: Karen Maine
Cast: Natalia Dyer, Timothy Simons, Francesca Reale, Wolfgang Novogratz, Alisha Boe, Donna Lynne Champlin and Susan Blackwell

Director Ava DuVernay once said a film that gets made is a “small miracle.” I’d add, if you’re woman and get a film made, it’s miraculous. And if you both write and direct, it’s a blessing. Not many can succeed at both.

If YES, GOD, YES is any indication, Karen Maine will be worth following for the years to come.

Six years ago, she debuted as one of the screenwriters behind OBVIOUS CHILD, the Jenny Slate comedy about an aspiring comedienne whose brand of humor is cringey and unapologetic. Slate’s character gets a reality check when an unplanned pregnancy has her face some hard truths about being an independent woman. That’s sugarcoating a comedy that had the difficulty of touching on the subject of abortion in a comic environment.

For her debut in the director’s chair, Maine draws from her own experience of growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, and her years of Catholic schooling. Girls going through puberty is tough enough. Place them in a pious setting where a schoolmistress doles out demerits like they were meter maids, trying to stay righteous in the eyes of the Lord is even more complicated. Just ask Alice (Natalie Dyer).

The year is 2001, and 16-year-old Alice becomes the subject of gossip in the lunchroom about a sex act that may have occurred with an ex-crush. She firmly denies having anything to do with “tossing a salad.” She doesn’t even know what it means. (Clearly, HBO and watching Chris Rock’s “Bring the Pain” comedy special was off-limits in her household.)

Now curious, after school, Alice makes the mistake of detouring out of an AOL movie trivia chat room and ventures into a cybersex chat with someone who shares some illicit photos. Taught to be fearful about sex and immature thoughts, Alice is afraid to explore her feelings, even remaining reserved when in confession with the school’s headmaster, Father Murphy (Timothy Simons).

Natalia Dyer, left, and Timothy Simons star in ‘YES, GOD, YES.’ Courtesy photo.

Looking for answers, Alice signs up for Kirkos, a Catholic retreat led by Murphy. Four days in the woods for students to work on their relationships with Jesus. But as the days unfold, she finds herself tested by the program, be it her arrival and imagining running her fingers through the hairy forearms of a senior leader (Wolfgang Novogratz), or the pleasures of her old cell phone when set to vibrate.

Much of the conversations and banter feel like Maine pulled them from diary entries or written assignments she stored away after graduation. Apathy displayed by Alice’s friend Laura (Francesca Reale), at times, seems about right, and the abstinence-only posters adorning hallways reinforce that you’re either carefree or sex free.

YES, GOD, YES was originally an 11-minute short film that Karen Maine shot in 2017 with star Natalie Dyer. Stretched out to a feature (a slim 73 minutes before the end credits start), the comedy moves with consistency, and it doesn’t fall into the trap that seems to plague most comedies — pacing issues.

I couldn’t help but cackle at a scene early on in Morality class as horny teenage boys are described as “microwave ovens” because they are quick to turn on. Girls are the “conventional ovens” of the human species. They need time to warm up. Yet, most of Judd Apatow’s comedies run way over 120 minutes. Now that’s a paradox.

Maine’s debut is critical of Catholicism and its ways, but she’s not being obnoxious about it. Alice thinking she has something wrong with her only to discover that her peers aren’t the poster children for piousness, that’s the core. The rest is reveling in the outmoded trends of the turn of the century. Got to love nostalgia: dial-up internet, chat rooms, MP3s, and rewinding a videotape of TITANIC to see the sex scene again (a touchstone for pubescent girls at the time). Special acknowledgment for the music drops that Maine incorporates. Four occur, and the last one is the perfect signature stamp, particularly its ties with the Christian comedy SAVED! YES, GOD, YES had that same vibe.

I’m not saying you’ll have a religious experience with Maine’s comedy, but it has just enough wit and sin to confess others to see.

Grade: A-

Now available on digital platforms.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.