Our parish had that cool young priest, the kind with the bearded paternal buttoned-down hippie vibe of Michael Gross on Family Ties. He liked hearing confession face-to-face, making it more of a conversation with God’s emissary rather than the judgment of a detached voice. At least, that was the theory.
I avoided face-to-face confession wherever possible, because as a Catholic kid in the ’80s I preferred my God as detached as possible, especially if I was going to actually be honest in confession — as I was motivated to be during my teenage years, when I genuinely believed there was actually probably Someone Up There who was going to judge me for my sins.
I wore a scapular (around my ankle, convenient if not precisely canonical), I went to church even when I went away to college (for the first semester, at least), and one Saturday I walked up to church and stepped into the face-to-face confessional (the only option) to confess the sin of masturbation. Only a very real fear of eternal torment could have brought me to that point.
Alice (Natalia Dyer) never manages to get quite that honest in her face-to-face confessions with her bearded young priest (Timothy Simons), but he knows damn well she’s had her hand in her pants, and the scene in Yes, God, Yes where he tries to squeeze the truth out of her is excruciatingly squirm-inducing.
Yes, God, Yes isn’t a movie about sex abuse in the Spotlight sense, but it’s a reminder of how profoundly fucked-up it is that even in the best-case scenario, existing as a faithful Catholic kid means sitting down with a grown man — one who, by mandate, is single and abstinent — and telling him about all of your sexual experiments.
Truth be old, it’s not much more than that. Coming in at a slight 78 minutes, writer Karen Maine’s directorial debut (coming to virtual cinemas and select drive-ins on July 24, then to digital platforms on July 28) is a simple slice of life from the AOL era, when the screech of a modem sounded the horn for porn. One day after school, the teenaged Alice runs to her basement to log on and stumble around in search of the definition of a sex act she’s falsely rumored to have engaged in with a boy (Parker Wierling) in her class.
Yes, God, Yes is expanded from a 2017 short that also starred Dyer, which helps to explain why the 25-year-old is still playing intelligent but inexperienced teens, four years after the debut of Stranger Things and five years after I Believe in Unicorns. She’s certainly good at it, wisely underplaying her part in a movie that comes to the brink of satire but ultimately remains closer to realism.
The film tells a simple truth — that we’re all human — and is valuable in that. If it feels a little 101 for more sophisticated viewers, maybe a movie like Yes, God, Yes is what kids like Alice need. This dose of reality comes from a kindly lesbian bar owner (Susan Blackwell), albeit in the movie’s least likely scene. (How did Alice plan to pay for that wine cooler?)
When Alice pointedly confesses an offense that lets her interlocutor know that she’s on to his hypocrisy, her penance is 50 Our Fathers and 50 Hail Marys. I got off easier: my confessor informed me that there was absolutely nothing wrong with masturbation. Somehow that felt even more appalling than the condemnation I expected, but suffice it to say I suffered for my sin.