God and man at high school
"Saved" is an earnest attempt to grapple with the intersection of religion and adolescence in an out of the ordinary high-school comedy.
By JASON GREY
Before a screening of "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," I saw a trailer for "Saved" that was hitting the right buttons. A high school teen movie that takes aim at growing up in a conservative Christian community with a cast of teenage indie-film veterans. Amen! It had satire and high jinks potential written all over it, along with a je ne sais quoi that I couldn't quite put my finger on.
Jena Malone ("Donnie Darko") plays Mary, who questions her faith and God's plan when her equally good Christian boyfriend, Dean (Chad Faust) realizes he's gay. She takes his plight, along with a vision from Jesus, as a call to bring him to salvation from such a perversion. Of course, when Dean's parents find gay pornography in his room they send him away to be rehabilitated. This situation sets the film in motion, as Mary must come to terms with God, Jesus, her family, and the amazing pressure cooker that is American Eagle Christian High School.
|Directed by: Brian Dannelly.|
Written by: Brian Dannelly, Michael Urban.
Cast: Jena Malone, Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin, Patrick Fugit, Heather Matarazzo, Eva Amurri, Chad Faust, Elizabeth Thai, Martin Donovan, Mary-Louise Parker, Kett Turton, Julia Arkos, Donna White, James Caldwell, Nicki Clyne.
Cinematography: Bobby Bukowski.
Edited by: Pamela Martin.
Related links: Official site
Mary is a member of the Christian Jewels, the powerful all-girl clique that runs the school. Led by Hillary Faye (Mandy Moore), a demanding neurotic who is so set on being like Jesus that she doesn't realize what her overbearing actions are doing to her and her friends. She takes it upon herself to "save" all those around her, especially the token bad girl, Cassandra (Eva Amurri), who happens to be the only Jewish student at the otherwise all-Christian high school (strike one).
Doomed from the get-go, Cassandra is rarely without a cigarette or a sexual quip. She befriends Hillary's cynical, wheelchair-bound brother Roland (Macaulay Culkin). This action creates a small pinhole in Hillary's devout bubble, but is enough to fuel her determination to push good morals upon Cassandra and anyone who associates with her.|
Getting through high school is tough enough add the idea of graduating as a solid Christian and it gets even tougher. The teenagers in "Saved" have yet to learn this, as they try to fit into Jesus' shoes. They have been fed the word of God for so long that they don't realize what's happening to them and what they are putting themselves through. Mary feels so strongly that God is providing everything for her that she thanks Jesus when she loses her virginity in an effort to save her gay boyfriend. Hillary is so set on being the shepherd that when Mary seems to be straying from the flock she attempts to exorcise her.
Of course these actions come from those that are trying to teach them. The adults in the students' lives are having problems of their own practicing Christian values. Mary's mother, Lillian (Mary-Louise Parker), longs for adult companionship and tries to find it with the somersaulting, slang-speaking Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan) a relationship that may or may not be without a punishment from God.
These characters and the situations they are in make for good high-school comedy, but the film does have a serious side. "Saved" tries to point out the failures of such an environment and questions if these teenagers are being properly prepared for the real world. It touches on the problems of youth today, like teen pregnancy, hate crimes, homosexuality, divorce, sexual education in the classroom, single motherhood, and physical disabilities. (It discreetly avoids abortion.) The filmmakers nimbly balance high-school comedy and social commentary without trivializing the institution. The film isn't an ethics lesson. It doesn't preach or try to impose its morality on the viewer. It presents the dilemmas, ambiguities, and hypocrisies of religious values and culture with a sense of humor and tries to give you something to think/talk about as you leave the theater. "Saved" captures teenage youth in a Christian setting so well and displays issues so thoroughly that it shouldn't be taken as ironic. It questions the Virgin Mary's virginity while wearing a T-shirt that reads "Jesus" written like AC/DC's band logo.
Oddly enough, it is this serious side that was disappointing. The movie isn't campy or overly stylistic in its direction. The comedy didn't make me laugh out loud like a John Hughes teen comedy or poke fun like "Bring it On." "Saved" is righteous while it asks questions about those that try to be righteous. It questions faith and morals while making jokes at those that try to live with faith and morals. This serious side is what I picked up on in the trailer and turned me off to the movie a bit. "Saved's" serious side comes across in the trailer because it's an inherent part of the film. And like a character in "Saved" might tell me, "You can't punch a nerd because he can't help being a nerd. Love one another and don't call people nerds."|
If you need a ratings system I'll give "Saved" two and a half out of four punches punches to the shoulder, not the head or the gut.
|MAY 28, 2004|
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Reader comments on Saved!:
saved from faith, Jun 2, 2005
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