Photo: ‘Yes, God, Yes’/Netflix
Netflix’s new film ‘Yes, God, Yes’ is a coming-of-age comedy that creatively captures the consequences of repressing sexual impulses and the various techniques employed to counteract them. The film is an accurate and original showcase of engaging in religious taboos, exploring the internalized guilt that results from even entertaining supposed sin-like behavior. Casting did an exceptional job assembling these characters, starring the captivating Natalie Dyer from Stranger Things, who nails the youthfully awkward and timid essence that lends so well to the narrative. Although quiet and rather coy, her subdued personality makes for a laughable contrast to her mischievous behavior.
Attending a strict midwestern Catholic school in the early 2000s, rumors spread as the teenage Alice (Natalie Dyer) becomes the butt of a “salad-tossing” joke, bringing her purity and status to question. To make matters worse, the school is plastered with abstinence posters, preaching priests, and morality courses accentuating the taboos of non-marital sex. Amidst the sins and other ‘no-nos’, masturbation is also regarded with heavy consequences.
What sets her apart from the bulk of the other characters is her curiosity towards sex as she stumbles into AOL chatrooms, tempting her to masturbate and actively sin as she rewinds the part in Titanic leading up to the sex scene three times, despite her growing fear of eternal damnation warned by a hypocritical Father Murphy (played by Timothy Simons). Written by a witty Karen Maine, the script is filled with lovely moments and clever comedic wordplay. Despite the heavier nature of these subjects, she tackles them intelligibly, treading rather lightly over these complicated issues with a bright sense of humor, somewhat reminiscent of films like Saved and But I’m a Cheerleader.
Seeing it as a potential repenting opportunity (and also what seems like a way to fit in with the other “do-goods” at her school) she attends a four-day spiritual camp hosted by her school. What is intended to be a path to quell her sexual appetite becomes a repository of temptation for her repressed urges. She enters what almost appears to be a nearly cultish gathering of smiling graduate robots, equipped with matching sweat-shirts and an awkwardly enthusiastic friendliness. One of the characters, rising star Paige Hullet, remarks with a sickly sweet pep in her step “Isn’t God’s paint palette just magnificent?”
Instead of engaging in her decisive discipline to circumvent her desires, she continues to disarm them, masturbating in her room and instantly buzzing like a bee at the sight of the masculine stud Chris’s (Wolfgang Novogratz) hairy arm. Once a teenage girl myself, I thought this detail was hilariously well done. When you’re young, it’s in the subtle details of sexual maturity that trigger that kind of unconscious lustful excitement, like the appearance of facial hair or a protruding adam’s apple. It was a fine detail, but extremely funny and relatable that his arm was the focus of her fixation, another applaud to Karen for that hairline gift in her directorial debut.
‘Yes, God, Yes’ – Intricate Innocence in Detail
With a nifty taste for detail, the set is sprawling with minutiae of nostalgic treats that delicately enhance Alice’s innocence amidst her sexual curiosity. As she navigates the chatroom, a tall glass of chocolate milk and a bowl of cheddar puffs are stationed at the desk to sanction the supposedly “sinful” behavior. During lunch sessions, Alice is repeatedly featured eating some kind of applesauce between uncomfortable moments, and Karen makes sure to highlight the milk cartons and chocolate pudding on her tray. Her adolescence is pronounced with chipped nail polish, pimples, and an innocuously unassuming purity. Throughout the film she has to repeatedly inquire what the “salad tossing” term actually means, an adorable and silly addition that further emphasizes her sexual inexperience.
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Karen has a good feel for timing her comedic bits, incorporating several clever quips like Alice circling the word “turned-on” and then trying to erase it with a tacky eraser, making it more noticeable as her paper is collected. At some point, she includes her smiling teeth, stained with brown pudding. Her usage of random objects as pleasure-inducing devices is a riot as the teen finds out her contraband vibrating cell-phone might come to better use than just playing the snake game. She does this often throughout the film, unlocking something absurdly playful, creative, and relatable.
Harmony Among Hypocrisy
“All this talk about morality, chastity, prudence and the like are very antiquated notions created by some very old belief systems that are notoriously negative towards women.” -Roberto Hogue
Among the shenanigans and inner struggle Alice experiences, as she traverses through the labyrinth of tangled temptations/ feelings, she stumbles upon some serious hypocrisy on her retreat. She handles all this quite well, considering the pressure imposed on her by her peers to follow the rules/ word of God. It only confuses her further but eventually pushes her to a state of harmony and acceptance of who she is–in a way, she seems more mature than all the adults around her.
She comes to understand that she wasn’t the only one struggling with her internal repressions and the totem of principles that were so “markedly holy” hardly stood for anybody. She comes to realize that everyone is hiding something, and the best thing to do is stop placing so much guilt and judgment on one another, learning to accept herself and others. She proves herself as a strong character throughout the film. Honestly, I think I might have lost my temper or resorted to feeling emotionally distraught if I were her. I recall the same type of shame around sexual curiosity and masturbation when I was young, it can yield a great deal of weight if you permit it to—and can be challenging to overcome.
Especially with those of religious pretense, this type of internal shame and guilt is a heavy burden to bear. If one allows these feelings to go unaddressed into adulthood, they come out in harmfully destructive ways. We’ve seen this play out in incredibly dark fashions, but Karen hints at the repercussions without highlighting the catastrophic trenches that many (particularly those reeling from religious upbringings) experience young and fail to work through. Alice, however, is bright and wise, discerning her own feelings of right and wrong from that which is preached. Genuinely informative, really funny, and unraveling like soft-serve ice cream into a waffle cone, this film was a sweet treat about acceptance, adolescent adventure, and liberation.
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Melissa McGrath is a writer for Hollywood Insider, offering rich and engaging content for reviews and features. Melissa feels at home with Hollywood Insider’s lively team who share an equal passion for the art of cinema. Having sought out compelling stories her whole life, she is eager to examine and share her observations with others interested in thought-provoking material. She believes in changing the world through meaningful dialogue and hopes to provide helpful insight with her work. She values open discussions concerning morality, culture, personal development, and holds a soft spot for cathartic humor. Through the art of storytelling, journalism, and cinema, Melissa seeks to help build a strong community of free-thinkers and cultivate a deeper understanding of the human experience.