Saved!

on May 28, 2004 by Annlee Ellingson
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Part John Hughes, part After-School Special, "Saved!" is a teen comedy with all the requisite elements--including the climactic scene at the prom--but with a message. The filmmakers advance a tenet of tolerance and acceptance, but, in skewering Christianity, they miss an opportunity to make a much subtler and more interesting case.

Mary (Jena Malone) is one of the most popular girls in school at American Eagle Christian High--until her boyfriend tells her that he thinks he might be gay. When Jesus appears to her in a vision, she heeds his message to "do everything she can to help him." Although they work diligently on his problem, their strategy doesn't do a bit of good, and, to make matters worse, she discovers that she's pregnant. The news throws Mary's faith into turmoil, and, noticing the change, her evangelical best friend Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore) summarily casts her out of the "Christian Jewels."

Now an outcast, Mary discovers unexpected support from the school's other pariahs: Hilary Faye's wheelchair-bound brother Roland (Macaulay Culkin), the school's lone Jew Cassandra (Eva Amurri) and Patrick (Patrick Fugit), the new kid at school after a mission to South America and the World Skateboarding for Christianity Tour. Together they navigate the treacherous halls of high school toward graduation.

Writer/director Brian Dannelly's script is often quite hilarious, from the school pastor's attempt to be hip ("Lord Jesus is in the house! Who's down with the G-O-D?") to speculation on what a Christian girl might be doing at a Planned Parenthood ("She's planting a pipe bomb?").

But ultimately the can't-we-all-just-get-along argument is too simplistic, ignoring the complexity of what it requires to adhere to a conservative, born-again doctrine in the modern world. Certainly it's difficult to argue with, "Why would God make us so different if he wanted us to be the same?" But the reasoning, "I wonder if God would give us these feelings of happiness if what we're doing is wrong," gives one pause. People experience feelings of happiness when they're drinking and doing drugs and cheating on their spouses. Without making a blanket statement on morality, one can definitively state that at least some segments of the population would view doing these things as wrong.

Moreover, "Saved!" acquires an unappealing mean-spiritedness in the last act. Hilary Faye, for all intents and purposes the villain here, gets her due when Mary and the gang distribute photos of her stint at fat camp and she develops a fat, juicy pimple on the night of the prom. These touches seem rather juvenile and forfeit audience empathy with the characters and the filmmakers.

And, as Hilary Faye is the film's only representative of the vehemently faithful, one can't help but equate the attack on her with criticism of Christianity itself. There are no reasonable Christian foils to counter her histrionic zeal.

Patrick is a pastor's son and so intimately familiar with the faith. He's a skateboarder, so he's cool. And he asks Mary to the prom even though she's about to be an unwed mother, so he's non-judgmental. But he never talks about his faith, and ultimately he's too bland to serve as a strong Christian alternative, seeming to be agnostic at best. By neglecting to mine and develop the Patrick character, the filmmakers waste the opportunity to make a more nuanced and textured film. Starring Jena Malone, Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin, Patrick Fugit, Heather Matarazzo and Eva Amurri. Directed by Brian Dannelly. Written by Brian Dannelly and Michael Urban. Produced by Sandy Stern, Michael Stipe, Michael Ohoven and William Vince. A United Artists release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for strong thematic issues involving teens--sexual content, pregnancy, smoking and language. Running time: 92 min

Tags: Starring Jena Malone, Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin, Patrick Fugit, Heather Matarazzo, Eva Amurri, Directed by Brian Dannelly. Written by Brian Dannelly and Michael Urban. Produced by Sandy Stern, Michael Stipe, Michael Ohoven, William Vince, United Artists, Comedy
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