The Bottom Line: The Christians who protested this missed its point, as always.
What's more important? Keeping faith in your chosen religion or following the rules that are part of it? This was a question presented to me by a Christian friend who decided she was a lesbian several years ago, and it is essentially the question presented by Saved, a small independant comedy probably best known for the prescence of a grown-up Macaulay Culkin. But since there's so much more to Saved than Macaaulay Culkin, you'll just have to wait for me to tell exactly what he's doing here.
The central character of Saved is a high-school senior named Mary (obvious Christian influence there, huh?). She's been a devout, born again Christian for most of her life, ever since her father died when she was very young. She's been going to a Christian school, hanging out with her true believer friends, playing in a band called Christian Jewel, and has that perfect athletic good Christian boyfriend. She's leading the typical sheltered life and is your average fundamentalist in the making when, the summer before her senior year in high school is to start, life's realities smack her upside her head and spend the next year giving her a relentless schooling in the Bible's nonexistant grey areas.
It's a day when any other when the perfect Christian athletic boyfriend and Mary are playing a game where they tell each other secrets underwater. It's CAB's turn to share his darkest secret: "I thiiiiink I'm gaaaaay!" Shocked by the secret so that she's not paying attention as she resurfaces, she whacks her head against a pipe, goes unconscious, and is rescued by a long-haired pool guy. Underwater, Mary sees the cover of Nirvana's Nevermind album, except the kid is replaced by the pool guy, whom she mistakes for Jesus telling her that CAB needs her help and she needs to do everything she can to help him. So she spends the summer trying to help him, and at the end she makes the ultimate sacrifice: Her virginity, on the idea the God would restore it if she prayed for forgiveness. Unfortunately for her, God is not in. The boyfriend is still fruitier than Elton John's wardrobe, the parents shipped him off to a Christian clinic called Mercy House to "cure" him, and Mary is left with a growing bulge in her stomach that she now has to conceal from her true believer friends and her mother.
Saved is about Mary's struggles with her faith and situation more than anything. Her idyllic Christian life ripped out from under her feet and her beliefs all but shattered, Mary goes through the motions of most of those who find themselves in life-altering experiences. She starts looking for a new religion to believe in (she tries crystal healing in an amusing scene). She can't let her school find out because no one there would accept it - especially not her friend Hillary Faye, the reigning queen of the school who's seen one too many episodes of The 700 Club and taken inspiration from Pat Robertson. Her mother wouldn't be able to handle her daughter's pregnancy, so obviously Mary can't tell her either. Mary is alone in her worries for a good chunk of the movie, and certain scenes in this stretch, like the one where she stands outside of a church uttering curses to show her anger at God, particulary ring loud and clear. There is another scene in which Mary, inspired by a school production of Jesus Christ Superstar, wonders to herself if Jesus's mother just made the whole thing up (it would have been very convenient, she notes).
Here's where Macaulay Culkin enters the picture. He plays Hillary Faye's crippled brother Roland, who isn't fooled by Hillary's good Christian girl act. Roland and school outcast (and local Jew) Cassandra see Mary outside of Planned Parenthood and the three of them form a clique. It's with the two outcasts that Mary finds real acceptance, and also with Patrick, the new transfer who has fallen head over heels for her, and also the one person in the movie who sees grey areas and can really bring sense to Mary's situation. (Mercy House exists more for the people who do the sending.)
There's no hiding the obvious flaws of Saved. It's predictable and so cliched, the actors in the roles rarely had any meaty material to work with. The closest the script is to meaty is the scene where Mary stands outside the church and swears. Jena Malone, who plays Mary, played the scene well, as she did the rest of her part. Then again, there wasn't a particular need to ham anything up, since this is supposed to be a realistic movie about teenagers anyway. Cassandra, the rebel Jew, gave actress Eva Amurri a bit more to do than the rest of the cast (watch the scene where she pretends to be speaking in tongues!), but it's still not that much. Culkin is also fine, but the best performance in this movie is Mandy Moore's. She steals the show as Hillary Faye, who is pure venom from beginning to end. Moore does the phony Christian love thing almost too convincingly, pretending to be a good Jesus freak but really just using him - much like Pat Robertson - to be popular and have things her way. Hillary Faye and Mary both have crushes on Patrick, and in one scene in gym where Mary watches him run around the gym, Hillary Faye warns Mary: I know what you're looking at. And so does Jesus. As Mary challenges the normal, Hillary Faye slowly turns from phony Christ lover to outright angry.
Most of the scenes in Saved may be cliches, but they're so well written it's impossible to care. One fine example occurs when Roland and Cassandra spy Mary outside Planned Parenthood: Cassandra: There's only one reason why teenage girls come down here. Roland: To plant a pipe bomb? Cassandra: Okay, two reasons. Roland: ...I think there's a better chance of that pipe bomb. Even though the climactic scene is at a prom, the dialogue ascertains that you'll enjoy it. Some scenes are a bit more ridiculous, like Hillary Faye's hilarious attempt to exorcise Mary by ambushing her when she's walking home from school. Scenes between Patrick and Mary are sickly-sweet, but well written enough that they're, well, cute.
Saved has respect for Christians and Christianity, and at the same time it tries to get people to think. I'd rather watch it than see Jesus get beat into a bloody pulp.
Teen comedies are a dime a dozen. Unfortunately, movies focusing on teen pregnancy are even more prevalent. So how do you come up with a twist on combining some tried-and-true formulas? Set your picture at a Christian high school, throw in some better-than-average talented actors, and back it up with a great sounding Christian-influenced movie soundtrack, and the end result is SAVED!, a scathingly funny indictment of all-things-Christian as well as it is a wholesome bit of praise for just the same … more
When saved was released in theatres, I had several acquaintances and friends tell me that it was a really good movie. I was told that it dealt honestly with faith and that I should see it because "it's also a Christian movie." I was a bit surprised by some of these words of praise because they came from people who were mainly atheists and agnostics. I wasn't able to see the movie when it was in theatres and forgot about the film until I happened to see it while browsing at a local video store. I … more
SAVED! is a testy little film that takes more chances than most and if not taken as a parody on our current religious polarizations, it could offend many. But this is a comedy and since Greek times, comedies find their most pungent lines in making fun of contentious ideas. The setting is a fundamentalist Christian Baptist Highschool where everyone in the student body is endlessly praising Jesus and God and stretching their modes of entertainment and socialization to focus … more
Sometimes the truth can hurt. In "Saved!," fundamentalist Christians get a healthy dose of this fact. Now before somebody jumps on me for attacking Christians, let me tell you that I grew up in a fundamental home. When I went to college I became a "Bible-thumper" for a couple of years. I'm not saying that that is a terrible thing, I'm just saying that many Christians, especially younger ones, can take their beliefs to an extreme level that not only discourages others into finding out about their … more
Pros: Jena Malone, Mary-Louise Parker, Eva Amurri, very fun lines, wonderful message Cons: gets a little cheesy, is sad if you think about it too much The Bottom Line: What would Jesus do? No, really. What would he do? In his feature film debut, writer/director Brian Dannelly scores an unlikely comedy hit with a tragic theme: intolerance and lack of sex education at Christian schools. The plot sounds like an after school special, … more
Classic teen comedy mixes with cunning satire inSaved!. Fervent Christian Mary (Jena Malone,Donnie Darko) believes God wants her to save her gay boyfriend by sleeping with him. But he gets sent to an anti-gay indoctrination camp while she ends up pregnant--which starts to drive a wedge between Mary and her snotty best friend Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore,How to Deal). Meanwhile, they're both interested in the son (Patrick Fugit,Almost Famous) of their Christian school principal (Martin Donovan,Trust).Saved!respects faith but gleefully mocks the excesses and absurdities of contemporary organized religion, particularly its suburban, let's-speak-the-language-of-the-kids manifestations. The actors, including Macaulay Culkin (yes, fromHome Alone) and Mary Louise Parker (Fried Green Tomatoes), play their parts with sincerity, which makes the fusion of humor and heart succeed. A delightful movie.--Bret Fetzer