Picture from To Save a Life
Overall A-

Jake Taylor (Randy Wayne) and Roger Dawson (Robert Bailey Jr.) used to be friends. But now Jake is the coolest basketball star in the school, and Roger is nothing. When the unpopular student tragically dies, Jake is racked by guilty questions about what he might have done To Save a Life. Looking for those answers proves to be a life altering experience.

Violence C
Sexual Content C-
Profanity C+
Substance Use D+

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving teen suicide, teen drinking, some drug content, disturbing images and sexuality.

To Save a Life

Jake Taylor (Randy Wayne) is the quintessential jock. The senior is the star shooter on the basketball team and has his arm wrapped around Amy (Deja Kreutzberg), the cheerleader every other boy wishes was his girl. But there’s a past to Jake few are aware of. When he was a kid, his best pal was Roger (Robert Bailey Jr.), a quiet boy who lived down the street and also enjoyed basketball.

Jake will never forget Roger for two reasons: First, during their younger days, Roger pushed Jake out of the path of an oncoming car. Roger’s heroic action resulted in a lifetime leg injury and a halting gait that attracted a lot of teases and taunts. As Jake’s popularity increased in their high school environment, the limping teen became even more of a loner. Once Amy came on the scene, he felt he had lost his only friend. That led to the second unforgettable event—the day Roger brought a handgun to school, fired it in the air a few times and then shot himself. (This is not explicitly depicted on screen. The shot cuts away just before we hear the burst of gunfire.)

Trying to stop him during those final moments is the first time Jake has spoken to Roger in a couple of years. Now, as much as he would like to put the horrific memory behind him, Jake is tormented night and day by his lack of care for his childhood chum. Although his clique of friends, including Amy, do their best to convince him that the suicide isn’t his fault, Jake tries to lose himself in a life of risk taking behavior. Parties with drinking, drugs and sex become his raison d’être. Making matters worse, his parents are on the brink of divorce.

At this point, many teen movies would search for a "quick fix," or even resort to a semi-comedic resolution with an unjustified happy ending. But To Save A Life is a rarity and its intended purpose is not to entertain (although the story is certainly compelling). Instead it offers solutions that are difficult, but realistic, along with portrayals of the consequences that come from making poor decisions. To bring these themes to the screen, this movie includes depictions of sexuality (the scene is brief and only male topless nudity is shown), drug use and self-inflicted violence—all involving teen characters.

The film also offers religion—in this case Evangelical Christianity—as a positive tool for reconciling feelings of guilt and improving the lives of others. Yet, even here, a preachy attitude is avoided, and ecclesiastical leaders and church members are presented as human beings, each with their own talents and faults.

For some, the serious content in To Save A Life may make it inappropriate for viewing. Caution is certainly advised, especially for younger family members. However, for older teens, this film presents powerful messages about inclusion, the importance of supportive friends and family, looking out for others who may appear marginalized, and the role faith can play in your life.