Producers: Katie Cordeal, Colleen Hammond, Eleanor Columbus and Rodrigo Yeixeira Director: Karen Maine Screenplay: Karen Maine Cast: Natalia Dyer, Timothy Simons, Wolfgang Novogratz, Francesca Reale, Susan Blackwell, Parker Wierling, Alisha Boe and Donna Lynne Champlin Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Some fundamentalist viewers will inevitably be offended by Karen Maine’s comedy, expanded from her short film, about a Catholic teen girl’s sexual awakening, but “Yes, God, Yes” is a funny, perceptive piece that earns points for its relative subtlety in a genre that usually goes for the gross-out jugular.
It’s also blessed, if you will, with a skillfully understated performance by Natalia Dyer as Alice, a sixteen-year old who’s a student in a very conservative Catholic high school in the Midwest (it’s based on Maine’s experiences growing up in Iowa), where a pregnant administrator named Veda (Donna Lynne Champlin) roams the hallways handling out citations she finds guilty of undefined improprieties of dress,. It’s just at the turn of the century, and what Alice knows of sex comes from the classes taught by gawky but stern pastor Father Murphy (Timothy Simons), who’s insistent that any activity outside of marriage for the purpose of procreation is strictly forbidden. That pointedly includes, he makes clear in answer to a question, self-stimulation.
That, of course, doesn’t stem Alice’s baffled interest, kindled not only by her watching a VHS of “Titanic” but by a false rumor started about her fellow student Wade (Parker Wierling)—that she had “tossed the salad” with him. (A caption at the start of the picture helpfully defines the phrase for the uninitiated.) That’s led to her being treated as a “loose girl” by some classmates (and, of course, Ms. Veda), though she still has a close friend in Laura (Francesca Reale). Even Laura, though, is beginning to have her doubts.
Alice gets in deeper when she visits a computer chat room and stumbles into a conversation with a hirsute guy who posts photos of him and his “wife” before asking her if she wants to get involved online. The poor girl is utterly bewildered by this introduction to the satisfaction that can come from watching and pleasuring oneself.
The rest of the movie is set at a retreat Alice and her classmate take with Father Murphy, where they’re expected to open themselves to Jesus while being separated into small discussion groups under leaders like the lovely Nina (Alisha Boe) and handsome Chris (Wolfgang Novogratz). But though she tries to get into the spirit of things, her attention is diverted by Father Murphy’s announcement that somebody has been using his computer to call up pornography and the realization that some of the retreat leaders are not practicing what they preach—as well as by her own inclinations, of course.
And though she grabs an opportunity to take her well-deserved revenge on Wade, Alice also delivers a message to her classmates—as well as Father Murphy—about tolerance. Her own understanding and self-esteem are enhanced by a conversation she has with the owner of a bar she stumbles into during an escape from the retreat. That sequence, beautifully written and played by Dyer and Susan Blackwell—encourages her to liberate herself from the stifling environment she’s been trapped in and broaden her horizons for the future.
Obviously “Yes, God, Yes” gets in its digs at fundamentalist Catholicism, particularly in terms of its repressive sexual teachings, but overall the writing is smart and knowing, and while some of the supporting performances are rather broad, those at the drop—particularly from Dyer and Simons—are exceptional. For a low-budget effort the picture also looks surprisingly fine, with Todd Antonio Somodevilla’s cinematography classically elegant—no jarring camera moves here—and Jennifer Lee’s editing keeping the running time to a trim seventy-five minutes. Sally Levi’s production design is good and while Ian Hultquist’s music score, combined with pop tunes, can come on a mite strong, the result isn’t overly irritating.
“Yes, God, Yes” is a pleasant surprise—a comedy about a teen’s sexual awakening that isn’t cheap or vulgar. And while some Catholics will consider its critique of their church unfair, others will find it embarrassingly valid.