Offering a title with the exclamatory promise of “Yes, God, Yes” and opening with the (partial) definition of tossed salad, the feature directorial debut from “Obvious Child” writer Karen Maine isn’t short on foreplay. But where her Sundance breakout offered spiky truths wrapped in candid laughs, this SXSW winner is more content to play it safe. A sex comedy that carries what might be the gentlest R-rating in recent memory, “Yes, God, Yes” is a mostly routine romp through a well-worn genre that fails to ignite a climactic spark.
In the classrooms of a nondescript, ordinary Midwest Catholic high school, Father Murphy’s (Timothy Simons) cringe-worthy assertion that men are like microwaves and women are like conventional ovens is what passes for sex education. It’s no wonder that Alice (Natalia Dyer) — a big fan of the “Titanic” sex scene — is confused when her feelings are more heated than yesterday’s lasagna. After being propositioned in an AOL chatroom during an otherwise innocent game of Word Scramble, Alice’s curiosities intensify. So, she does what any God-fearing, churchgoing young woman would do — she attends a school-run Bible retreat. It’s a chance to reassert her faith, shake off some rumors about her tossing the salad (a term that baffles Alice) of a classmate, and move up the popularity ladder. However, as you might expect, packing that many hormonal, confused teenagers in one place only leads to further complications. Upon arrival, Alice and her classmates are asked to give up their cellphones and watches to more fully focus on the reverent tasks at hand. Naturally, the tactic only gives Alice more time for her urges to overflow without distraction. She develops a crush on hunky, dim-witted jock Chris (Wolfgang Novogratz), manages to find her way back onto AOL, and soon discovers that even the most virtuous have to satisfy their urges even if God is always watching and damnation is eternal.
“Yes, God, Yes” hinges much of its comedy on the not particularly shocking revelation that there are inherent hypocrisy and a disconnect between the Catholic view of chastity and saving yourself until marriage, and the reality of the human body and behavior. This is certainly not a new discovery, and the film’s observations on these matters are broad and lacking any kind of bite or sharper insight. And aside from a single scene set in a lesbian bar, the film’s view of sexuality is almost entirely straight, a somewhat disappointing notion for a sex comedy released in 2020. As Alice navigates the landscape of her budding attractions, they are narrowly and conventionally defined. It all begs the question: who exactly is this film for?
Set in 1999 — VHS tapes are still around, mp3 players are new, and Blink-182 have just released Enema Of The State — to anyone who was coming-of-age at that time, “Yes, God, Yes” won’t feel like a nostalgia piece. Aside from those aforementioned references and AOL, the film is doesn’t make much hay of the period. Meanwhile, the movie is too tame to have much meaning for its target audience of current adolescents who can have any questions answered by reaching no further than their phone, and are fully aware of a much larger spectrum of sexuality than “Yes, God, Yes” acknowledges. More crucially, nothing feels at risk in “Yes, God, Yes” whether it’s good taste or even Alice’s character arc, which largely consists of validating that her feelings are normal, something she already senses to be true from the start. Maine based the film on her own upbringing, but one wonders at the possibilities had the story been contemporarily set, where Alice would not only be able to Google “tossed salad” but come across thousands of videos clearly illustrating what it means. And in that process, discover a whole sexual realm that exists beyond the Catholic strictures that intercourse is mainly for procreation.
“Yes, God, Yes” is too comfortable with itself, too certain in its moral message, while leading Alice through a narrative that is never less than sure. It’s sex comedy as gospel, preaching a placid Sunday afternoon sermon to a congregation of the converted. [C-]
“Yes, God, Yes” arrives at select drive-ins and virtual cinemas on July 24 before expanding to VOD on July 28.