'Yes, God, Yes' Review: A tasteful 'American Pie' about a Catholic girl's sexual awakening

Karen Maine's debut feature comedy is definitely worth a nod, even if all of its 77 minutes don't succeed at leaving a mark


                            'Yes, God, Yes' Review: A tasteful 'American Pie' about a Catholic girl's sexual awakening
Natalia Dyer in 'Yes, God, Yes' (IMDb)

This article contains spoilers.

There was a certain kind of relateable innocence and naivete in Jason Briggs's Jim Levenstein that made young kids growing up in the early 2000s flock to 'American Pie' so often. It was a cult classic sex comedy that was an undeniable rite of passage for being cool. High school comes with its own pressures of sexual awakening and almost humiliating aspect of it for a horny male teenager was explored in those fests of toplessness.

But while thinking of sex or masturbation as eternal damnation might be something utterly banal in 2020, Karen Maine's feature debut 'Yes, God, Yes' manages to strike the right note with its 2001 setting. It's almost American Pie but tasteful, and from a modest, shy, but curious teen girl's perspective. What's better? Her family is deeply Catholic and her awkward, embarrassing, heavily condemned sexual awakening happens at a religious retreat. Blend all of them together, and Maine's comedy is definitely worth a nod, even if all of its 77 minutes don't succeed at leaving a mark.

Natalia Dyer plays the teen in focus, Alice, whose trip to church camp turns into her experiments with all things horny. She meets the handsome hunk Chris (Wolfgang Novogratz) whose hairy arms are a strong reminder of the recent raunchy experience she had on an AOL chatroom. Alice's growing curiosity is spurred more when she is chastised for being a "perverted psycho". Soon it is outed that she "tossed salad" with a boy even though Alice doesn't even know the context of it. But Alice's sexual awakening isn't just a story of her own; it also brings in a wonderful interweb of characters who even though religiously oppressive, do have their own quirks to earn a chuckle.

There's social climber Fiona, whose reputation is at stake for being Alice's friend. There's the goody-two-shoes Nina (Alisha Boe), whom Alice meets at camp and is immediately chastised by burnt marshmallows for her mortal sin of lust. There's the stern Mrs. Veda (Donna Lynne Champlin), a stern reminder for anybody who's spent a day in missionary convent schools. And then there's Father Murphy (Timothy Simons) - a relatively young guide who deeply professes abstinence by comparing men and women's orgasms to microwaves and ovens. 

Dyer's Alice is in a way an extension of her Stranger Things character Nancy Wheeler. But the actress gets to woo us a lot more in this central role. It's obvious that comedy is her forte and the Netflix sci-fi original should utilize her more. Boe's Nina is a striking contrast from her sex-positive assault survivor Jessica Davis in '13 Reasons Why'. It's interesting to see her experiment on the lighter side of things as she turns into the prissy snob. Both Champlin and Simmons are seasoned in the genre and it comes out without effort. The two are in their element and often help sail the plot more than anything else.

In all of this, Maine's jokes and wit shines through and through with excellent comic timing. Alice's rebellion at exploring and coming to terms with her own horniness is in a way reminiscent of Ladybird's plight in the Oscar-nominated Greta Gerwig film. Something is missing and more often than not, it's the lack of enough time spend at fleshing out the story. But as far as precision and emotions go hand in hand, Maine's debut is very concise in both its structure and significance. And at keeping the sex comedy light without getting insufferably preachy.

It doesn't take long to become a little uncomfortable by Alice's deeply Catholic surroundings, trying to chain her sexuality the way men try to control laws on what women do with their bodies. But even if one doesn't want to tread those territories, 'Yes, God, Yes' offers a laugh heartier than any of the recent romcoms have been able to. Perhaps such is the charm of the 2000s. Everything was an experiment and romantic comedies were automatically livelier no matter how uptight its heroine, or how outrageous its hero was.

'Yes, God, Yes' will be available for rent and on demand on virtual theaters from July 28.

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