Producers: Sandy Stern, Michael Stipe, Michael Ohoven, William
Written by: Brian Dannelly, Michael Urban
Cast: Jena Malone, Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin, Patrick
Fugit, Mary-Louise Parker, Martin Donovan, Heather Matarazzo, Eva
Amurri, Chad Faust
Given the increasing prominence of evangelical
Christianity (and, for that matter, fundamentalist
Islam) in American public life today, the arrival
of a film that sensitively explores the role of
conservative religion in the development of teenage
morality is an exciting event. But that event has
not yet occurred. Instead we have Saved,
the first feature film from director Brian Dannelly.
Saved is neither a sensitive consideration
of an important and complex phenomenon nor a scathing
indictment of it, but just a mawkish and occasionally
charming paint-by-numbers teen comedy trapped inside
a screeching deck-stacking polemic.
Mary (Malone) is looking forward to her
senior year at American Eagle Christian High School.
She and her best friend, the holier-than-thou Hilary
Faye (Moore), play in a popular Christian
rock band, and her boyfriend Dean (Faust)
is a sweet, good-looking guy. With prom a mere nine
months away, Mary has it all. But in the film’s
first five minutes, Chad tells Mary that he thinks
he’s gay. After receiving a vision from Jesus,
Mary is determined to “help” Dean by
showing him the benefits of heterosexuality. After
their only stab at sex, Mary is upbeat in her confidence
that Jesus will restore her virginity, but Dean
is still gay and Mary is pregnant.
So two thousand years after Jesus, the Virgin Mary
begins her senior year at a Christian high school.
Stop me if I’m going too fast, but here’s
the rub. One might think that in such a situation
there would be no better place to be—but woe
unto thee! These Christians are judgmental,
moralizing, and lacking in compassion. Their leader,
Pastor Skip (Donovan), tries to relate to
his charges by using teen-friendly lingo (“Are
you down with G-O-D?”), but encourages ostracism
as the appropriate penalty for disobedience. Dean
is shipped off to a deprogramming center and Mary
quickly realizes that her best hope for emotional
support can come only from a group of marginalized
students: Hilary Faye’s cynical, wheelchair-riding
(and atheist?) brother Roland (Culkin), Jewish
“bad girl” Cassandra (Amurri),
and Pastor Skip’s son Patrick (Fugit),
Mary’s cute-boy love interest.
The budding romances between Mary and Patrick,
and Cassandra and Roland, are sweet in an entirely
predictable way, and Hilary Faye is such an over-the-top,
unredeemable bitch that one cannot help desperately
awaiting her comeuppance. But that movie has been
made a thousand times: What makes Saved anything
different than a cut-rate Breakfast Club
is its commentary on fundamentalist Christianity,
and here it fails miserably. In the film, Christians
are naïve, hypocritical, selfish, and cruel,
while the truly good people—those who are
sincere, if troubled, and compassionate for the
plight of others—all reject, in one way or
another, the religious agenda of American Eagle
High School. Perhaps ironically, Saved is
preaching to the choir. It is Christian-bashing,
pure and simple. The characters who are most devout
in their Christianity—Hilary Faye, Pastor
Skip and, to a lesser extent, Mary’s mother
(Masterson, who actually looks a great deal
like her film daughter)—are the most self-involved
and least considerate; “redeemed” are
all those who give up or substantially alter their
For a film that so savagely ridicules its fundamentalist
targets, Saved stands for precious little.
Many of the film’s biggest laughs come from
pointing out that the students at American Eagle
are painfully sincere and quite naēve about the
world outside of their fundamentalist lifestyle
enclave. But surely there are bigger sins than that?
In the film’s climactic speech (set, unsurprisingly,
at the prom), Mary singles out the intolerance and
stringent standards of the school when she exclaims
that God would not have made us all so different
if he wanted us all to be the same. But if we shouldn’t
be intolerant of homosexuality or single-parent
families, can’t we still be intolerant of,
say, pedophilia or racism? The problem with the
standards of evangelical Christianity is not that
they are too high, but that they are wrong. But
Saved is unwilling to take this stand, and
opts instead for a fuzzy Unitarian Universalist
message. (In a throwaway voiceover late in the film,
Mary makes it clear that she still believes in God.)
Saved tries to claim the moral high ground
by ridiculing the most intimate beliefs of those
outside the mainstream, and that’s a tough
sell. Furthermore, whatever small amount of moral
authority this film might have claimed is significantly
diminished by the omnipresence of Coca-Cola™ products.
It’s hard enough to make a halfway-decent
teen comedy. Maybe Saved should have stopped
Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.
Itís worth a full-price ticket.
Itís worth a matinee ticket.
Wait for video rental.
Check out the video from the library, if you must.
While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...