Monday 17 August 2020

YES, GOD, YES review

Set at a Catholic youth retreat in the early 2000s, Yes, God, Yes sees Stranger Things' Natalia Dyer star as Alice, a typical high school girl with an increasing number of questions about sex. When an AOL chat room encounter leads to her receiving unsolicited porn and engaging in some unexpected cyber sex, she decides that the retreat her classmates are raving about might offer her the answers she's looking for.


Dyer is of course best known for her role of Nancy in the immensely popular Netflix series, Stranger Things, which is beloved by a huge audience around the world. Which is why it's strange that, outside of the older cast members Winona Ryder and David Harbour, the younger faction of the cast (with the exception of Finn Wolfhard in the IT films) has been quite slow to head to feature films. But with her cast mate Joe Keery in cinemas this week with Spree and her on and off-screen boyfriend Charlie Heaton maybe, possibly, finally making his blockbuster bow with his role in the long delayed New Mutants due any day now, the time is right for Dyer to join them on the big screen. Well, that's in theory, of course, as Yes, God, Yes is making its debut straight to VOD, possibly in part due to the Covid pandemic, but also by virtue of being a smaller, indie film, but a belter nonetheless.

At Alice's Catholic high school they teach abstinence before marriage, warn of the dangers of masturbation, are pro-life and anti-hem lines more than two inches above the knee. Alice is curious to know what some of these new phrases she's hearing her classmates say actually mean, including the 'salad tossing' she's been accused of doing to one of the boys in her class. When her best friend Laura (Francesca Reale) hears about Kirkos, the new four day retreat some of the "cooler" girls have attended, they both decide to go along to the next intake, with Alice hoping she can silence some of her questions, such as why she wanted to rewind her Titanic videotape to re-watch the steamy sex scene, before she ends up burning in hell. Sadly, Alice's hopes are soon squashed as she finds herself instantly attracted to Chris (Wolfgang Novogratz), a slightly dumb, overly-enthusiastic team leader with fantastically manly, hairy forearms and a proclivity to helping damsels in distress.

It's an unashamed throwback to some similarly themed films released around the time this film was set, like Saved and But I'm a Cheerleader, but with a more refined, real world sense of humour. Although it exists on the tamer end of the scale (the closest this film comes to an American Pie moment involves Dyer and a mop handle - less vulgar than it sounds), at its core Yes, God, Yes is a sex comedy, and an often cringingly funny one at that, steering clear of the more dramatic angles taken on by The Miseducation of Cameron Post and the Church vs common decency conversion dramas of recent years. Here the spin is that this isn't a place they're forced to go to for mending their 'wicked ways' or to stem their feelings of homosexuality (in fact, it's not a subject that's covered at all here), Kirkos is an optional retreat for the students, ran by Father Murphy (Timothy Simons) from school, and is a broader stab at the overall absurdity, hypocrisy and unhealthy attitudes fostered by teaching purity instead of proper sex education.

It's a great performance from the charming Dyer, who plays the conflict between Alice's innocence and burgeoning sexual desires with great comedic effect, discovering new things about her body with the help of the classic mobile phone game, Snake. No, really. Written and directed by Obvious Child's writer Karen Maine (expanded from her short film of the same name), Yes, God, Yes is a smart, thought-provoking little gem of a film that I highly recommend seeking out.



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