Director: Brian Dannelly
Stars: Jena Malone, Patrick Fugit, Macaulay Culkin, Mandy Moore
Release Company: 20th Century Fox
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Given the present climate of intolerance in America, where our patriotism is often questioned if we don’t embrace fundamentalist Christian teachings, Saved! is a welcome respite. Patterned after many teen comedies respite with high school stereotypes that populate American Eagle Christian High School, Brian Dannelly’s entertaining satire hits its mark by illustrating the value of tolerance. If Jerry Falwell and kin take offence at its continual jabs at narrow-minded fundamentalism, so be it. Those people can stay out of the multiplex and find solace on their local evangelical television channels and radio stations. Sincere Christians striving to live by Christ’s compassionate teachings need not fear having their faith challenged, however. Saved! doesn’t knock Christianity—only the hypocritical follies of the small-minded.
Protagonist Mary (Jena Malone) wants to be a good Christian, and being part of teen queen Hilary Faye’s (Mandy Moore) born-again Christian Jewels clique is a sign that she’s on her way. She gets tested very early in the movie, however, when playing a swimming pool game with her boyfriend Dean (Chad Faust) where he reveals that he thinks he’s gay. Bumping her head, Mary comically thinks she has a vision from Christ (really the pool worker) that instructs her to save Dean. Considering how the Virgin Mary saved mankind, Mary decides to sacrifice her virginity to transform Dean into a full fledged heterosexual. She believes that Jesus will restore her virginity due to her pure motives in fulfilling
Of course, this doesn&'t work since Dean's parents soon pack him off to Mercy House for fixing after they discover a gay magazine beneath his sheets. And Mary has her own predictable problems, confirmed with a shoplifted home pregnancy kit and visit downtown to a Planned Parenthood Clinic. Mary’s short-lived secret is observed by lone Jewish school rebel Cassandra (Eva Amurri) and her boyfriend Roland (Macaulay Culkin as Hilary Faye’s nonconformist, wheel-chair bound brother), and the three form their own more humanistic alliance.
Another sympathetic character is the pastor’s son Patrick (Patrick Fugit of Almost Famous), a skateboarding whiz who brandishes a thoughtful brand of Christianity that differs greatly from his father’s dogmatic teachings. He also fancies Mary, drawing a direct contrast with his father’s repressed romance with Mary’s mother. Compassionately striving to abide by Christ’s spirit, Patrick casts his lot with the rebellious trio, at one time explaining that Mercy House for wayward teens “doesn’t really exist for the people that go there, but for the people who send them.”
Patrick, Mary, Dean, and a few other teens represent the kind of evangelical Christianity that the filmmaker approves of—a basic accepting and non-judgmental attitude that places more value on striving to live more like Jesus than espouse rigid rules and dogma. Hilary Faye and Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan) with his “Who's down with G-O-D?” pep rally banter stand for the clueless souls that claim to be following Christ's teachings, but are more likely to clobber a non-believer over the head with a weighted Bible than embrace them with Christian love. Satires don't rely on nuanced characters and elaborate plot lines, but work when the humor hits the mark and when the cardboard stereotypes approach enough reality to relate to the audience. So Saved! achieves its purpose and serves as appropriate teen fare that doesn't insult our intelligence.
A simple message film that doesn't get deep into its characters or gray areas of theology, Dannelly's often witty and uneven film doesn't go over the top, making it a fairly entertaining venture. Saved! certainly doesn’t rank as a great film but it's hardly as controversial or offensive as some claim. The real value lies with what its audience does after a screening. It would be easy to walk out and instantly forget the straightforward portrait of hypocrisy, but the film could actually serve as a lively discussion starter for Christian youth groups. As long as a few groups are inspired to explore just what it means to be a Christian, the film’s flaws can be forgiven. And with the film in wide release, this is virtually assured.