God, I wish I'd seen Yes, God, Yes when I was a teen. The film even fits my timeline—Alice, played by Stranger Things star Natalia Dyer—is coming of age in the early 2000s, learning about sexuality through unmonitored AOL chat rooms, the vibrate setting on her old-school cell phone, and by replaying a certain Titanic scene over…and over…and over.
“Growing up, [female sexual pleasure] wasn't really a topic people were talking about,” Dyer tells me over the phone. “I didn't really see it portrayed, you know? I feel like in the places that I maybe did see it, it felt very performative—very for show.”
For me, a girl who didn't learn the best use of her fingers until college, this film is a revelation. Alice is naive, but not a prude in the way movies love to depict young virgins. She's interested in sex—she's just never had the means to go through with it. So, when a rumor goes around Alice's rigid Catholic high school that she tossed another student's salad, a phrase she doesn't even understand, she's highly encouraged to attend her school's weekend religious retreat.
Leave it to a woman. Yes, God, Yes was written and directed by Karen Maine (cowriter of Obvious Child) and is largely autobiographical. Perhaps that's why everything feels so natural, awkward, and high-stakes. Dyer feels every bit a real, un-Hollywood teen when she faces off against the rumor mill, societal expectations, and her first introduction to shame.
“There's just things that you can talk about and understand woman-to-woman, that you question whether somebody who hasn't gone through the experience of being a woman can really understand,” Dyer says. "I think it's really important to have more women guiding the stories that are being told."
Think of how many coming-of-age movies portray male masturbation. From American Pie to Call Me by Your Name, the act of self-pleasure for men is natural, whether it's played for laughs or not. For women, one of the few depictions I can think of is the time Alyson Hannigan says she stuck a flute up her pussy for shock value.
But ultimately, this movie is about so much more than masturbation or even discovering one's sexuality—it's about self-acceptance, even in the face of judgmental teachers, peers, and clergy. And that's something every young woman should see.
I spoke to Dyer to get her take on the film—and got a whole lot more than that—for Glamour.
Glamour: First things first, what have you been watching during quarantine?
Natalia Dyer: I'm currently watching I May Destroy You, which I think is fantastic. Oh my God. Really well done and also really important and kind of shocking, but I think it's so good. And the music! I'm listening to the soundtrack a lot, which is also amazing.
Yes, God, Yes is pretty important too—in terms of its depiction of masturbation and female teenage sexuality.
Growing up, it wasn't really a topic people were talking about. I didn't really see it portrayed, you know? I feel like in the places that I maybe did see it, it felt very performative—very for show.
I think the relationship with female pleasure is shrouded in mystery because it's not really shown, it's not really talked about so much. I think that was an important part of this concept of a female finding pleasure for herself and nobody else. She's just figuring out the part of herself. It's just very primal and part of everyone's humanity.
How did you channel Alice, as opposed to various other teenaged characters you've played?
I think a lot of the teenagers that I played have been a little more wistful or romantic. It was kind of about peeling it backward—to that awkward, not knowing, embarrassing, pretending to be glossy or sexy…person just trying to be a human.
In an interview from last year, you discussed trying to embrace anger, which reminded me a lot of Alice’s journey to self-acceptance. Have you made progress?
I started doing therapy last year and [have] been reading books about emotional language and emotional literacy, and a lot of the podcasts. It's been a really reflective period. I've never been somebody who's too quick to confrontation or anything, but I think anger serves a purpose if you can put it in the right place and move forward.
Therapy is a subject I would love to make less taboo as well. Oh my God! The idea of just having a space to talk and somebody to listen. I think everybody could use that. I think it's just a wonderful thing. And I think everybody, if they can and are interested, should try it.
If every single person was in therapy, the world would be a much better place.
Right? I feel like it. I really, genuinely do. I can only speak from my experience, but I just think it's freeing…just giving you tools to kind of figure out yourself. I'm all aboard the therapy train for sure.
We're all human and nobody's perfect. Don't demonize people for being human and for figuring themselves out. Sometimes we make mistakes, you know? I'm not perfect by any means.
This has become somewhat of a debate in the age of social media. Is that why you’re not very active online?
I've heard of this social media! [Laughs.]
It's hard to even talk about it because there are so many shades of gray…. I think I'd be scared to say anything because of who might be hurt or offended by it. I'm not a fan of cancel culture in general. I just think canceling a human is not productive to me at all.
I think it's important to listen. I think it's important for people to get their stories out. But I also personally don't like to be too quick to judge. I dunno, as an actor, I think sometimes you're really trying to understand people from the inside. Like, “Okay, that's not what I would do, but why would they do that? What's the human side of this? How can this person grow?”
This interview has been edited and condensed. Yes, God, Yes is in drive-in theaters now and available on demand on July 28.
Originally Appeared on Glamour