Many films adhere to the indie coming of age formula, making it exceedingly rare for even a pleasant project to transcend the genre’s normative qualities (I Used to Go Here being a prime example). A few delightful surprises do find their way to cinemas though, including the latest adolescent comedy Yes, God, Yes. Written and performed with a keen sensibility and emotional authenticity, the film ranks as one of the summer’s most rewarding achievements.
Based on a short film set in the early 2000s (from the same writer/director and star), Yes, God, Yes follows Alice (Natalia Dyer), a precocious teenager whose sexual awakening contrasts with her family and school’s conservative, faith-based culture. To understand her urges, Alice goes on a weekend trip run by Father Murphy (Timothy Simmons), where she begins to discover the blurry truth about her situation.
Yes, God, Yes mines some potent thematic depth from its finite focus. Karen Maine’s screenplay humorously observes the hypocrisy at the center of Catholicism, displaying religion’s suppressive nature and the superficial, overly-zealous way it’s preached to developing youths – especially women (the film is inspired by Maine’s experiences). Instead of approaching her satire with a bitting bleakness, Maine imbues a sense of warmth and catharsis that counterbalances her critique nicely while still finding a sharp voice when required (the final scene is a picturesque conclusion). Her script sings with sneakily searing comedic beats (whether its a counselor philosophizing Peter Gabriel “In Your Eyes” as a holy track or through its distinctly 2000s zeitgeist references), often being quite funny in its recreations of authentically awkward moments.
Maine’s balanced delivery helps render an endearing coming of age journey through Alice’s self-discovery. Where many ventures have viewed teenager’s awkward interactions with sexuality through a simplistic gaze, Maine explores this time of growth and curiosity in an assuring light that doesn’t belittle its subjects. Even as the film goes through some familiar motions (a third act speech made by a sage older character), these frames are colored with enough honesty to exceed the common framework. Star Natalia Dyer deserves significant credit for elevating the material, portraying Alice with a charming innocence that steadily evolves as she uncovers her conformist setting.
Perhaps the only aspect holding Yes, God, Yes back from reaching grander heights is its straightforward visual design. Maine has some fun jazzing up scenes with pop confectionary tracks, but cinematographer Todd Antonio Somodevilla’s style never rises to the level of its written craft. Perhaps enhancing some of the film’s personal frames with more visceral camerawork could have rendered an even more meaningful experience, similar to what Greta Gerwig accomplished with her debut film Lady Bird (though in the grand scheme of things, this is a fairly minute complaint).
Finding a sincere voice in her debut film, Kelly Maine’s Yes, God, Yes shines as a coming of age delight that articulates a well-realized portrait of Conservative culture [B+]
Written by Matt Conway