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MOVIE REVIEW

In ‘Yes, God, Yes,' some lessons are easier to learn than others

Natalia Dyer in "Yes, God, Yes."
Natalia Dyer in "Yes, God, Yes."Vertical Entertainment

MOVIE REVIEW


After four months in lockdown, we could all probably use a good, satiric sex comedy. The premise of “Yes, God, Yes,” sounds like it might fill the bill: a teenage girl discovers the joys of self-pleasure and the perils of hypocrisy while at a Christian youth retreat. But the film, a first feature written and directed by Karen Maine, is a comparatively chaste affair and a tepid one at that. It’s more interested in what’s going on in its heroine’s head than anywhere else, which is fine unless a filmmaker is unable to bring any freshness or urgency to the telling.

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The film is available for streaming via the Coolidge Corner’s Virtual Screening Room, starting July 24, as well as multiple other platforms. The Coolidge will be streaming a live Q&A with Maine at 8 p.m. on July 28.

Natalia Dyer — she plays older sister Nancy in Netflix’s “Stranger Things” — is a good choice for the lead part of Alice, a buttoned-down good girl just beginning to feel the stirrings of adolescent lust. Dyer has an expressive face that can scrunch up in disbelief or go numb with panic — both recurring options here — and the actress is able to bring a great deal of nuance to a largely reactive role.

Alice is a good little church mouse who hasn’t yet admitted to herself why she keeps rewinding to the car scene in “Titanic” over and over again. Then she stumbles into the wrong AOL chat room — the movie is set somewhere around the turn of the millennium — and finds her heart naughtily racing. Meanwhile, the hip young priest at her Catholic school, Father Murphy (Timothy Simons), is warning Alice’s Human Sexuality class that guys are like microwave ovens (i.e., they heat up fast) and that sex with oneself or anyone else before marriage leads straight to hell. God is watching, but does He have an Internet connection?

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Natalia Dyer in "Yes, God, Yes."
Natalia Dyer in "Yes, God, Yes."Vertical Entertainment

A chance to go on a weekend teen retreat offers a way for Alice to keep her hormones under control while hanging out with the cool Christian kids, but the presence of Chris (Wolfgang Novogratz), a dreamy hunk of an older student, stirs the pot right back up. At the same time, Alice is the subject of rumors that she “tossed the salad” of an arrogant classmate (Parker Wierling) at a party, and the retreat becomes an exercise in slut-shaming even as the poor girl is sneaking onto Father Murphy’s computer to figure out what “salad tossing” even means.

That’s a lot on the movie’s plate, and while Maine is a sympathetic screenwriter — especially in the film’s wisest and funniest scene, set in a lesbian bar Alice dejectedly wanders into — she has a long way to go as a feature director. Flatly filmed, drably lit, and sluggishly paced, “Yes, God, Yes” takes a cheeky premise and slowly lets the air out of it.

Or maybe it tries to put too much in. In 2009, Maine starred in and wrote a short called “Obvious Child,” which became a full-length 2014 film with Jenny Slate in the lead. Similarly, “Yes, God, Yes” had an earlier incarnation as an 11-minute 2017 film. That version, also starring Dyer, is available on YouTube and is everything the feature isn’t — sharp, witty, and, yes, God, subversive.

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★★

YES, GOD, YES

Written and directed by Karen Maine. Starring Natalia Dyer, Timothy Simons. Available via the Coolidge Corner’s Virtual Screening Room, as well as various cable systems and streaming platforms. 78 minutes. R (sexual content, some nudity).



Ty Burr can be reached at ty.burr@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.