“As for the faithless and the sexually immoral – their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
“Yes, God, Yes” quickly familiarizes viewers with the Catholic church’s extremely traditional views when it comes to sex thanks to this Bible verse from Revelations 21:8. The harsh language is clearly meant to intimidate readers away from realizing any form of sexuality prior to marriage, and from the onset this belief is established as this film’s antagonist.
What’s also made clear thanks to the message that follows is that “Yes, God, Yes” doesn’t give a damn about those antiquated values, immediately sharing definitions of “tossed salad” and “salad tossing.” The first is a delicious appetizer or side dish, but the second is not so innocent, defined as “a sex act involving the mouth and the buttocks.”
Right off the bat “Yes, God, Yes” sets up a clash of values – and Karen Maine’s directorial debut effectively explores this conflict in a simple, realistic and charming way.
For Alice (Natalia Dyer), sex is a mystery. At her Catholic school her teachers preach abstinence and that sex should only be used to bear children. Everything else, according to them, is a sin that will send you straight to hell. But as a hormone-filled teenager, Alice is naturally curious, and in 2001, that means heading to the chatrooms. Soon, Alice begins to discover her body and what makes it feel good – whether it’s porn, cybersex or the seductively hairy arms of her classmates.
But once false rumors begin to spread that Alice “tossed the salad” of a popular boy in school, she’s demonized by the girls in school and ridiculed by the boys. Plus, now the teachers think she’s some sort of heathen. It turns out the only way to save herself from eternal damnation lies in an exclusive weekend retreat to teach her and her classmates the value of chastity.
It turns out, though, Alice isn’t the only one having these carnal cravings – which leads her to the question, what’s so bad about sex anyway?
One of the first things you notice about “Yes, God, Yes” is just how 2001 it is. From the AOL instant messaging to the dial-up internet, clunky cell phones, Cheetos Puffs and everything in between, audiences are instantly transported back to the start of the new millennium. As fun as this nostalgia trip may be, at times it almost feels too forced. We get it, it’s 2001, now let me dive into the story instead of just being bludgeoned with early-2000s product placement.
The next most obvious thing viewers will realize is just how strange it feels to see Timothy Simons playing a competent character. After years of playing the bumbling Jonah Ryan on “Veep,” hearing Simons’ Father Murphy talk about sex without a gross, raunchy punchline at the end just feels wrong. Maybe it’s just the fact I recently wrapped up the series, maybe it’s Simons’ natural goofiness, but despite these preconceived notions, he’s able to still deliver a convincing performance once the initial shock wears off.
Dyer, known for starring in “Stranger Things,” channels the same teenage innocence here that makes Nancy Wheeler so lovable. As Alice, Dyer is convincingly naive to all of the chatter surrounding her nonexistent sex life, and provides viewers with a relatable point of view.
Oftentimes these coming-of-age movies center themselves around dramatic life events, typically graduation, prom, or another teenage milestone. Here, there is no drastic lifestyle change looming on the horizon, just every day life with the added knowledge of the human body’s desires. While this may seem small compared to a cross-country move to college, it’s nonetheless an important moment in the life of a young adult, and Maine handles it in a sensitive, yet humorous and realistic manner.
At just 78 minutes, though, “Yes, God, Yes” feels a bit incomplete. Closer to the length of a TV episode than a film, it would have been nice to dive a little bit deeper into some of the heavier topics and explore the characters in greater depth.
Still, in a world where female sexuality is so often associated with guilt and shame – two emotions Alice certainly feels here – “Yes, God, Yes” provides a refreshing take on the pleasure it can bring, without ever nearing any sort of objectification.
“Yes, God, Yes” is now available to purchase or rent on VOD platforms.
Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Raleigh, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.