×

SXSW Film Review: ‘Yes, God, Yes’

Karen Maine’s naughty but nice coming-of-age story showcases an exceptional performance by Natalia Dyer.

Director:
Karen Maine
With:
Natalia Dyer, Timothy Simons, Wolfgang Novogratz, Francesca Reale, Susan Blackwell, Parker Wierling, Alisha Boe, Donna Lynne Champlin, Blair Nesbitt.

1 hour 17 minutes

You don’t have to be Catholic, lapsed or otherwise, to be amused by “Yes, God, Yes,” writer-director Karen Maine’s semi-autobiographical account of a Catholic high school girl’s coming-of-age experiences with self-discovery and self-gratification. On the other hand, the gentle shocks of recognition afforded by this engaging indie comedy likely will be all the more enjoyable (when they aren’t mildly discomforting) for anyone, male or female, who remembers having to confess impure thoughts to an inquisitive priest, or fearing the consequences of actions so forcefully proscribed by nuns and lay teachers during religion (and, sometimes, biology) classes.

The movie received a special jury prize for best ensemble after its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival. But there can be no dispute that Natalia Dyer (“Stranger Things”) is first among equals here as Alice, a 16-year-old virgin who has already experienced her first stirrings of sexual turn-on after watching — repeatedly — Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet steam up the windows of an automobile below deck on a VHS copy of “Titanic.”

After that, it’s only a matter of time before Satan’s minions — well, OK, a couple cruising for a threesome in a dial-up AOL chat room that Alice inadvertently enters — coax her into her first exploration of masturbation. (VHS tapes? Dial-up AOL chat rooms? That’s right: The precise year is never announced, but these artifacts, along with pop tunes on the soundtrack, suggest a time period somewhere between the late 1990s and the early 2000s.)

Dyer — who also made an impact at SXSW five years ago with her remarkably nuanced performance in Leah Meyerhoff’s “I Believe in Unicorns” — is exceptionally adept at persuasively portraying Alice as simultaneously ingenuous and inquisitive, easily embarrassed but obviously intelligent, while she grapples with both an awareness of her sexuality and the aftermath of a nasty rumor spread by an obviously insecure classmate. (Don’t worry: He eventually gets what’s coming to him.)

Wade (Parker Wierling), the elusive object of her unfulfilled desire, claims she “tossed his salad” during a recent party. She didn’t, of course. In fact, she doesn’t even know what that expression means, despite her eager and repeated efforts to find out. One thing leads to another, Catholic guilt clouds what might (or might not) be her better judgment, and eventually Alice joins several of her classmates at a religious retreat where they’re supposed to bond — in a purely platonic fashion, under the watchful eyes of earnest clergy and student laity — in a stronger allegiance to Jesus.

Much of what follows is predictable — rest assured, the aggressively ingratiating Father Murphy (Timothy Simons) doesn’t always practice what he preaches about avoiding temptation, and at least two of the student advisers are unable to resist sins of the flesh — but an appreciable amount manages to pleasantly surprise.

Maine evinces a welcome generosity of spirit as she reveals at least one deeply religious young man, for all his over-the-top sincerity, deserves at least grudging respect for being a true believer. And while it initially plays like a goofy sight gag to see an elderly nun avidly perusing a John Grisham potboiler, it can just as easily be read as Maine’s way of gently reminding us that, hey, you really shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

“Yes, God, Yes” is bound to rankle some conservative Christians of every denomination, many of whom will point to a scene in which Alice receives words of wisdom from the owner of a lesbian bar (a show-stopping cameo by Susan Blackwell) as a clear sign of Maine’s, ahem, agenda. But Dyer’s Alice generates too much rooting interest, and the movie as a whole is too nondenominationally likable, for most other viewers to cast any stones.

SXSW Film Review: ‘Yes, God, Yes’

Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (competing), March 8, 2019. Running time: 77 MIN.

Production: An RT Features production, in association with Maiden Voyage Pictures, Walking Tacos Prods. (Sales: Endeavor Content, Los Angeles.) Producers: Katie Cordeal, Colleen Hammond, Eleanor Columbus, Rodrigo Teixeira. Executive producers: Chris Columbus, Lourenço Sant’Anna, Sophie Mas, Karen Maine.

Crew: Director, screenplay: Karen Maine. Camera (color): Todd Antonio Somodevilla. Editor: Jennifer Lee. Music: Ian Hultquist.

With: Natalia Dyer, Timothy Simons, Wolfgang Novogratz, Francesca Reale, Susan Blackwell, Parker Wierling, Alisha Boe, Donna Lynne Champlin, Blair Nesbitt.

More Film

  • Amy Adams (left) as Lynne Cheney

    Film News Roundup: Makeup Artists and Hair Stylists Guild Sets Awards Show for Jan. 11

    In today’s film news roundup, the 2020 awards season schedule gets finalized; AFM will cover immersive content; “Murderous Trance” and “7 Days to Vegas” get acquired; and Kate Katzman has been added to “The Comeback Trail.” AWARDS DATE The Makeup Artists & Hair Stylists Guild has set Jan. 11 as the date for its seventh [...]

  • Disney Pandora World Of Avatar, Lake

    The Piano Guys Play 'Avatar' Theme in Disney World (Watch)

    The YouTube sensation The Piano Guys have taken a trip to the world of Pandora for a performance of the theme to “Avatar.” Shot in the bioluminescent floating forest in Disney World, cellist Steven Sharp Nelson and pianist Jon Schmidt put their spin on the score to James Cameron’s 2009 blockbuster. The video immerses the [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Billy Drago, 'Untouchables' Star, Dies at 73

    Billy Drago, who often played harming but chilling gangster roles and appeared in Brian De Palma’s “The Untouchables” and Clint Eastwood’s “Pale Rider,” died Monday in Los Angeles of complications from a stroke. He was 73. The character actor played Al Capone’s henchman Frank Nitti in 1987’s “The Untouchables.” On TV series “Charmed,” he put [...]

  • Grant Sputore

    'I Am Mother' Director Tackles Margot Robbie-Produced Thriller 'Augmented'

    Warner Bros. has hired “I Am Mother” director Grant Sputore to helm the science-fiction thriller “Augmented” which Margot Robbie is producing, Variety has learned exclusively. Michael Lloyd Green is rewriting an original script by Mark Townend. Denise Di Novi and Tom Ackerley are also producing. Production companies are Robbie’s LuckyChap and Di Novi’s eponymous Di [...]

  • Miley Cyrus

    Miley Cyrus Teases 'Charlie's Angels' Collaboration with Ariana Grande and Lana Del Rey

    Three of the biggest female pop stars have joined forces in a new song for the Elizabeth Banks-directed reboot of “Charlie’s Angels.” In a tweet posted Wednesday, Miley Cyrus hinted at a collaboration between herself, Lana Del Rey, and Ariana Grande in the forthcoming film. Alongside a 14-second teaser, originally posted by Sony Pictures, the [...]

  • AMC TheatresShop signs, Los Angeles, America

    AMC Subscription Program Hits 860k Members

    AMC’s subscription service, launched in 2018 as a challenger to MoviePass, has reached 860,129 members in its first 12 months. Given the unwieldy moniker of AMC Stubs A-List, the service costs between $19.95 to $23.95 per month depending on where users live. The company initially said it had hoped to sign up 500,000 members in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content