Abstinence messaging is still no match for teenage hormones

Growing up is hard enough, but if you want an added degree of difficulty throw some religious repression into the mix at a time when your hormones are sending their own messages.

That’s the theme of writer/director Karen Maine’s “Yes, God, Yes,” a surprisingly sweet and tender coming-of-age story with a wholesome lead performance that keeps things centered and relatable.

Alice (Natalia Dyer) is a 16-year-old growing up in the Midwest in the early ’00s. Raised in a devout Catholic family, she gets her sex education through the filter of her Catholic high school, meaning a heavy dose of abstinence and urge suppression. Oh, and guilt. Don’t forget guilt!

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An innocent AOL chat with a stranger takes a racy turn, because creeps have been on the internet as long as there’s been an internet. Alice learns some new things and starts to explore, um, herself. When she later goes away for an intensive Catholic youth retreat, she’s caught between messages of chastity and awkward, hesitant flirtations with a cute boy, who is also very Catholic.

Maine, making her directorial debut after penning the script for “Obvious Child,” pulls from her personal experiences in ways that resound without judgment.

“Yes, God, Yes” falls comfortably in the lane of other recent great coming-of-age stories from an underserved female perspective, such as “Eighth Grade” and “Lady Bird.” And like those films, this movie has a pitch-perfect lead performance. Dyer, of “Stranger Things” fame, captures all the hesitance of a young woman navigating the awkwardness of adolescence.

The religious aspect adds a layer of relatability for anyone who was raised in that environment. Abstinence messaging is no match for teenage hormones. But Maine also handles that aspect delicately and with warmth, refraining from turning the movie into a screed against religion as Annie questions aspects of her own beliefs.

Ultimately Annie is just exploring herself, physically and mentally, in a dramedy that’s about more than just masturbation.

Clocking in at just 78 minutes, one knock on “Yes, God, Yes” is that some storylines feel a bit underdeveloped. It also explores a little bit of “Mean Girls” territory with some gossipy chaste girls who come off as hypocritical.

Likewise, the laughs are a bit sporadic, although Maine wisely keeps things from getting lewd.

Overall, “Yes, God, Yes” is well worth a rental, and it’s mild R-rating means parents can make their own call on whether or not it’s right for girls who are themselves in the middle of this relatable experience.