Katherine Maine’s debut comedic drama “Yes, God, Yes” garnered mixed reactions in its effort to bring the struggles and sexual repression of religious teens to the big screen. Opening in 2000, the storyline of Catholic high school student Alice takes jabs at the holier-than-thou attitude of priests and cautionary lines lifted from the bible, enough to win the hearts of students in repressive school environments, and to make the more devout Catholics roll their eyes.
While it is true that "Yes, God, Yes" unsparingly spews the comedic satire of its era, to paint the film as a simple mockumentary of more close-minded religious factions is to miss the essence of the film. Maine did more than make her audience laugh in the film's embarrassingly relatable moments or cringe when a joke failed to land. The drama strikingly emerges through a handful of sincere and vulnerable moments that help us ponder what it means to be a good person.
The film’s focus on the sexual awakening of Alice can make first-time watchers turn a blind eye to the separate narrative of the subject of her fantasies — Chris. Chris is not only the overlap between jock and muscle hunk, he is easily the nicest guy Alice has ever met. He high-fives every person he meets and consoles troubled peers with the biggest hugs.
Crushing hard on Chris, Alice finds a way to take advantage of his kindness and pulls him into a steamy kiss without his consent. The aftermath haunts us in the last few moments of the film. Chris, hands hidden in his pockets, desperately tries to remove himself from a confrontation with Alice after the kiss. Even when he responds to Alice nicely, Chris later shrinks away from Alice’s offer of a friendly embrace.
The damage Alice caused to the guy who looks out for her cannot solely be attributed to pure naivete. Part of it is the decision to simply latch onto faith and fear alone as deterrents against temptation.
In a society where righteousness is taken as common sense, “Yes, God, Yes” presents the greatest peril to the formation of every good person — the failure to see how our goodness may also serve us. If we do not form our own motivations for goodness, we err in moments when fear can no longer keep us from doing the wrong thing. Everyone can cave under pressure and make mistakes, as shown through the portrayal of church leaders, including Father Murphy and Beth who violate the very principles they preach.
The crux of the movie is captured in one quote: “The truth is, nobody knows what they are doing any more than the rest of us.” It offers a worldview that is disturbing as much as it is comforting. There is no “righteous” path. That is not to say that we should shrug our shoulders and call it a day. This revelation, if anything, invites us to consider possible motivations for why we might pursue goodness outside rigid rules imposed by society or our affiliation with the divine.
The lesbian bar owner, the conceivable Good Samaritan of the film, carves out her reason for choosing virtue. She knows what it is like to be ridden with fear over something as inconsequential as eating gumdrops when her parents told her not to, so she gave Alice the greatest gift she gave herself — freedom. She imparted advice for Alice to explore communities outside her rigid hometown. She was the only person willing to straightforwardly answer Alice’s innocent question on the meaning of a sexual innuendo, because she knows it doesn't have to mean any more than the meaning we give it.
A more eccentric character, dubbed as “Glue Girl,” also indirectly represents a possible motivation for being good through in keeping with who we are. The immediate environment does not shift dramatically once you step into yourself. Sometimes it may even isolate us and drive a wedge to our relationships, but if we are doing good in service of authenticity, it can help us break free from the aspects of our identity where we feel less confident, or experience being wronged and hurt by others.
One of the most inclusive and reaffirming pillars of the Church is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Whether or not we subscribe to a religion, we can share in the spirit of not letting a single experience define us. To leave confession rooms or any situation in life, feeling whole and transformed, we must continue to examine our reasons for seeking change. Our actions need not define who we are, but they must mean something to us. For among the labels, mantras and lessons that others give us, those that stick are the ones we give to ourselves. In the last seconds of their encounter, Chris offers Alice a side hug — his very own form of absolution.
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