The Distancer: Tuesday, July 28, 2020

DAY 138: Yes, God, Yes

Happy Tuesday, friends! Today is an exciting day for me is at marks 11 years since I came home from an advanced screening of Julie & Julia and started writing about movies with this blog post. (I caught a typo in it today, whoops.) Thanks for being a part of the long, strange, unpredictable journey!

*checks the news once in 2020*

Occasionally, algorithms are good, because today I got served this Hamilton x Beyoncé mashup performed by Jonathan Groff. No particularly topical reason to share other than spreading joy:

Anyways, more on brand … author Anya Kamenetz, who wrote a book pre-pandemic about managing screen time, re-evaluated her conclusions in a really fascinating piece for The New York Times. I think it’s a really remarkable thing to see someone wrestle with the viability of their convictions so publicly, and it’s something we should all be more comfortable normalizing! Here’s my favorite portion:

“The phone is like a fentanyl lollipop; yes, it’s possible to abuse, but our pain, and the massive pain of the world driving us to it, is arguably the real problem.

The antidote is connecting to our bodies and our feelings, with the assistance of loved ones who make it safe to do that.”

For everyone looking back fondly on the sourdough starter kit days of quarantine, you might enjoy this piece from The Cut entitled “When We Were Bread Heads” that dares ask the big questions: “So what did we want from sourdough? What do we want still? (Were we asking too much of it anyway?)”

Who wants to do the honors of finishing off this section for good? My employer is matching donations to a number of justice-oriented organizations (all of which are listed and described in this nifty spreadsheet). Make your money go twice as far by noting your organization of choice in a Venmo payment (@marSHAffer)!

Now, what you came for…

DAY 138: Yes, God, Yes (available on VOD via various digital providers)

It’s honestly time for the younger millennial cohort (born 1990 and later) to rise up and demand that culture evolve from ‘90s nostalgia to early ‘00s nostalgia. Our time is here to reclaim the period in all the vivid detail we have seared into our brains from both moments of great shame and joy. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that Yes, God, Yes is the representation we need and, hopefully, just the tip of the iceberg.

Karen Maine’s film will hold an especially dear place for anyone who attended conservative religious schools or institutions in Bush-era America. The story follows Natalia Dyer’s Alice, a good and obedient 16-year-old Catholic girl who stumbles into discovering certain sexual pleasures innocuously from an AOL chatroom. Before there were DM-sliding creeps, there were chat participants sending one-off AIM message asking “A/S/L?” Of course, given the time and environment, Alice’s discovery comes with very little educational knowledge and a hearty helping of shame.

There’s such a tactility to the recent past Maine recreates in Yes, God, Yes — the way a church makes its presence felt in all spaces, the overwhelming teenage infatuation set to Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle,” the newly discovered utility of a flip phone’s vibrating feature. I laughed and cringed in recognition constantly throughout. But this is not an overly precious memory preserved in amber. The film’s value does not derive from its value as a time capsule but rather from the way it uses a highly culturally specific experience to make a widely applicable coming-of-age story.

Yes, God, Yes is not a “burn it down” movie about religious hypocrisy or Catholic schooling, though Maine does have a healthy (and justified, based on what we see in the film) amount of ridicule for both. As Alice fumbles her way through coming to terms with what it means to be in touch with her sexuality in an institution that only wants her to be touched by Jesus, she comes to see the ways a sex-negative culture negatively impacts everyone around her. I found her journey towards the enlightened conclusion that we should aim for honesty, not obsess over purity, was both hilarious and heartfelt. Even as enmity widens between Alice and religious strictures, she grows closer to and more confident in her spirituality — which is just the kind of happy ending we like to see in a film like this.

Be good to yourselves and to each other,

See past recommendations