Making the Grades
Not long after the theatrical release of Mean Girls, yet another movie about nasty teen-aged females debuts--only this time they're professed Christians. Saved! provides plenty of controversial content, and if it weren't for its weak cast and an even weaker script, might have had the potential to play anti-Christ to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.
The film focuses on a girl named Mary (Jena Malone), who is tossed into confusion after her boyfriend Dean (Chad Faust) announces he's gay. Desperate to find a way to "help" him, she determines Jesus would want her to sacrifice her virtue with the hope a rousing hour of passion will straighten him out. However the uncomfortable experience (which is shared with the audience in much more detail than necessary) has a far greater impact on Mary when she discovers she's with child.
At her Christian high school, Mary does her best to literally cover-up the consequences of her late summer mistake. For the most part she succeeds, and it's not surprising considering the superficial nature of the educational institution's leader, Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan). Recently separated from his wife, he and others at the school are depicted as stonehearted religious fanatics.
The girl in trouble also gets little notice from her mother (Mary-Louise Parker), because the widow--for reasons not apparent to me--is infatuated with the Pastor.
Lacking parental guidance, Mary is unsure where to turn. Her only other choices are two sets of extreme characters: the group of goody-goody, Christian girls led by Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore), or the rough-around-the-edges crowd consisting of Hilary's faith-denouncing, wheelchair-bound, brother Roland (Macaulay Culkin) and the bad-attitude, chain-smoking, Jewish Cassandra (Eva Amurri) -- whose improbable heritage is a prime example of the poor and manipulative plot.
With the Christians pitted against the physically challenged/Jewish/homosexual camp, the war to be Mary's savior is on. Hilary's zealous determination resorts to abducting Mary and pronouncing an exorcism upon her, while outcasts Roland and Cassandra offer the "acceptance for everyone" solution.
The obvious bias against Christian schools (and perhaps Evangelical Christians in general) is possibly rooted in Saved!'s writer/director Brian Dannelly's past. According to his bio on the IMDB, Dannelly "survived" Catholic elementary school, a Jewish summer camp, and a Baptist high school. Yet if this first-time filmmaker is striving to have us understand the hypocritical nature of some who profess to have Christ-like attributes, he would do well to first refine the art of subtle overtones.
Just as some "Christian" films are guilty of presenting flat, perfectly wholesome characters, Dannelly's effort buries its possible valid arguments in similar overwrought stereotypes that fall on the other side of the spectrum. The worst is Mandy Moore's barely tolerable depiction of the pious headstrong crusader. Her exasperated verbal stabbing of the pregnant heathen, who has the gall to show up at the prom, comes across with high school performance quality.
Only the Pastor's ultra-cool skateboarding son Patrick (Patrick Fugit), who is often embarrassed by his father's hip and demonstrative religious enthusiasm, is shown as having an ounce of common sense.
Although language, sexuality, and the use of cigarettes by positively portrayed characters are reasons enough not to recommend this movie, I suspect those who are of evangelical faith will find it downright offensive. When Patrick plays the dying Lord in the school theatrical production, wearing only a tiny gold bikini brief, Cassandra remarks, "Talk about being hung on a cross." Insensitive dialogue like this may lead this film to its own crucifixion.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Saved!.
Does political correctness apply to everyone? If you substituted the gay or Jewish character in place of the Christian ones, do you think this film would be marketable? Do you notice an overall bias in the way media depicts certain religions, people of particular sexual orientation, or ethnic groups?
Smoking is portrayed in this film as a positive activity for young people. Do you think depictions such as these can have an impact on audiences?