Born and raised in the Midwest, writer/director Karen Maine attended parochial school from kindergarten to the 12th grade. She was baptized and confirmed, and tried (sort of) to be the best Catholic she could be – mostly out of fear.
“I remember being scared that anything bad I did, I’d go to Hell, or that God was watching me if I was doing anything I shouldn’t be doing,” Maine said in an interview by phone earlier this week. “It wouldn’t prevent me from doing (those things), it would just make me feel really bad.”
In her feature film debut, Yes, God, Yes, which is based on a short film of the same name she wrote and directed three years ago, Maine tells the story of Alice (Natalia Dyer from Stranger Things), an innocent, 16-year-old Catholic high school student in the early 2000s, who worries that her burgeoning sexuality might lead to eternal damnation.
When Alice goes on a spiritual retreat with her classmates and meets a cute camp counselor, she must face her hormones head on, all while uncovering the hypocrisy of some people’s holier-than-thou attitudes. She also must decide if rewinding the sex scene in Titanic really constitutes as a cardinal sin.
Maine wrote the screenplay based on her own experience going on the same type of retreat during her high school years – a retreat that she portrays in the film as secretive.
“This was before the internet was really wide and accessible, so you couldn’t go on Reddit and see what happens at the retreat,” she said. “I was like, ‘Why do I need to go?’ and [my best friend] wouldn’t [tell me]. So, it was the secrecy and the peer pressure because everybody was going.”
Looking back on it today, Maine said she considers the retreat “very manipulative,” although at the time it worked on getting her to believe she developed a closer relationship to God.
“I was coerced completely,” she said. “In hindsight as an adult, I’m like, ‘Jesus Christ! They really played with us.’ I was a malleable, 16-year-old girl who really didn’t have the capacity to think critically. I grew up in such a homogenous community. Everyone was Catholic and no one really questioned it.”
Maine hopes that Yes, God, Yes allows teenagers to see that just because someone grows up following the same spiritual practices as their family does not mean they cannot explore different beliefs. When she moved to New York for college, she discovered another world.
“You realize the parents and the adults … don’t have everything figured out and they’re not infallible either,” she said. “I want young women to see this and realize that if they’re told they can’t explore their body or that it’s shameful in any way, there are other people out there who have felt that way and that it’s OK. One day you’ll be able to think for yourself.”
Yes, God, Yes is available in virtual cinemas July 24 and on VOD, including iTunes and Amazon Prime, July 28.
Kiko Martinez is a film journalist and critic based in San Antonio, Texas.