Guilt is a word that can be found in many places. In courts of law, in prison cells and
inside many Catholic or relapsed Catholic’s heads right next to another heavy word, in
the form of the Catholic Guilt. This feeling some people get for no reason whatsoever
other than a childhood having to confess every time you lied to your parents about
doing homework to a stranger with a collar in his neck. The one other place this word
can be found in metaphorical buckets, along with repression, shame, humiliation and
confusion, are the halls of a high school.
Yes, God, Yes mixes these elements together and creates something surprisingly
delicate and fresh, with a perspective that is both innocent and, in the words of Kirkos
religious retreat´s priest (Timothy Simons), sinful. The movie tells the story of Alice
(Natalia Dyer), a teenager who goes to a Catholic high school, is a good kid, wears her
uniform skirt at the appropriate length, has “Morality Classes” and goes to church on
Sundays with her dad. She starts to question her reality when an AOL chat goes in an
unexpected direction, awakening her sexual desire and making her want to hump
various objects throughout the course of the movie. She goes to a four-day religious
retreat with her classmates, who all believe the rumour that she granted sexual favours
to a boy who has a girlfriend.
The film´s main theme is something very simple, something the popular media still has
trouble focusing on: female masturbation. Written and directed by Karen Maine, who
also co-wrote another indie movie that focused on a specific aspect of womanhood
many people are shamed for, with abortion rom-com Obvious Child (2014). Maine
follows Alice´s journey of self-discovery with intimate shots, showing us how much she
really understands the teenage girl gaze and its specificity. Closeups of fingernails with
chipped nail polish, children’s’ snacks, a game of Snake and an odd girl in the school bus
putting glue in her arm are all part of the very small, very childlike world we can see
through the main character´s eyes. A world where the sexiest, most coveted part of a
cute boy´s (Wolfgang Novogratz) body, is his luscious arm hair.
Alice sees a lot through those eyes. Dyer´s performance is amazing, she is shy and
innocent – almost never looking the characters in the eyes – but is clearly curious. The
role of a girl repressed by her environment and her friends, who, trying to find an escape
from looking at their own mistakes that can be considered sins, look to place blame in
each other, is perfectly played by the actress, who makes the script that is not dialogue-heavy work in her favour. She makes us relate to Alice even with her worst decisions,
like falling on the floor on purpose to get the attention of a boy.
Where Yes, God, Yes succeeds is the fact it doesn´t judge the main teen´s actions, it puts them into perspective. What do you do when something you´re told will send you to Hell makes you feel really good? And what about when your counterparts seem to all do the same things they were warned about being sinful too, but they keep it a secret? Karen Maine attempts to answer these questions in a movie that resonates. As Catholic high school alumni myself, she couldn´t have captured that experience better.
Words by Gio Chiconelli