Dir. by Brian Dannelly - 1 hr. 32 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
"Saved!" is a movie that walks a very fine line. It would be extraordinarily easy to make a film that was designed to play to converts that would also repulse the majority of average people. It would also be very easy to make a movie that has the things that happen in "Saved!," and just trash Christianity thoroughly, and it would repulse a lot of people who don't have the same religious fervor as Mandy Moore's character, but still consider themselves part of the religion. Somehow, this film incorporates a number of viewpoints, real-life complicated situations, and handles them all deftly, and in a way that even I, as a confirmed heathen, found to be reasonable and touching. But also, very, very funny, which is equally important.
Mary (Jena Malone) is your typical Christian school student, which is to say earnest and focused on doing the right thing. The wrinkle is that her boyfriend, Dean (Chad Faust), is questioning his sexuality. Mary does everything that she can to keep Dean from heading down a dangerous road (at least in terms of his spiritual life), and ends up doing something that she's not supposed to do, even though she thinks that she's being urged by Jesus to do that very thing that she's not supposed to do. At the beginning of the school year, Dean is quietly hustled off to Mercy House, which Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore) spills the beans on, despite her swearing that she wouldn't. Also, Mary's mom, Lillian (Mary-Louise Parker) is falling in love with the school's pastor, Skip (Martin Donovan), while his son, Patrick (Fugit) arrives on the scene after a missionary/skateboarding trip to Africa, and quickly falls for Mary.
There are a lot of threads running through this film, and one of the main ones is that real life is rarely as neat and clean-cut as people wish it were. If there was an overarching message, I'd say that "Saved!" is trying to get across that approaching life with rigidity unnecessarily complicates matters. Perhaps Bruce Lee can explain this better:
The characters in this film only seem to have a chance of happiness when they let go of their expectations and just flow like water. For Lillian and Skip, Skip's hung up on not officially ending a marriage that's over (a divorced pastor is not something he wants to be, it would compromise his authority as his community's spiritual leader), and not being willing to accept that there is a new chapter of his life waiting (impatiently) for him. Patrick and Mary's budding relationship is complicated by her trying to fight the consequences of unprotected sex. There's a third relationship in the film, between Roland (Macaulay Culkin), who's wheelchair-bound, and the school's bad girl, Cassandra (Eva Amurri Martino), and their willingness to look beyond their superficial problems and just be there for one another is the template that the other characters have to follow.
But it's also very important that a comedy actually be funny. A lot of the big LOL scenes are a result of Cassandra and her loose cannon persona (her approach to speaking in tongues is fantastic, and must-see), but she's not the only draw. Macaulay Culkin turns in a really good, understated performance, as does his on-screen sister, Mandy Moore. Moore's character is sort of a Jesus bully, cloaking everything she does to big-foot everyone around her in religion, and Culkin's character has to tolerate her because he's not exactly self-sufficient. Jena Malone is really good here as well, deeply conflicted and searching for an answer that makes any kind of sense, after seemingly being punished for trying to do something good. It's her character that's the key to the film and the balance between criticism and belief; she's a good person who has a real problem, and is in way over her head. It wouldn't even be fair to say that she made a mistake, her character made a choice teenagers make every day and suffers the same consequences teenagers suffer every day.
I think the thing that I came away most impressed with is that "Saved!" doesn't just suggest dispatching religion entirely, but asks for people to find a way to apply the concepts within in a usable way that relates to real life and it's attendant problems. Blindly applying the demands of Christianity in an abstract way only applies unbearable pressure to some people who are having difficulty finding steady footing, and is counter-productive to these people's overall well-being. "Saved!" posits that not grasping that is as bad of a sin as falling short of the mark, spiritually-speaking. That's not a radical concept, and nor is the plea not to demonize those who are struggling. Even Metallica grasps the "judge not lest ye be judged" concept, and are you dumber than Metallica?
3.5 / 5 - TV