Thursday, August 2, 2007

reVIEW (13)

This review (originally published under the title “Rescue G-O-D”) is being resurrected for no other reason than what I feel is my civic duty to call attention to movies that deserve an audience.

“Accepting Jesus into your heart and getting saved is a big decision. Especially for a three year old.”

Mary (Jena Malone) is a student at American Eagle Christian High School. She’s part of the Christian Jewels, a “girl band for Jesus.” Her mother (Mary-Louise Parker) is the number one Christian interior decorator in the entire region. Her boyfriend Dean (Chad Faust) is a star athlete who ice skates for Christ.
But two weeks before the summer ends, Mary’s life hits a huge speed bump: as it turns out, Dean is gay. And not only that, but Mary (having just banged her head on a pipe because of the shock of discovering her boyfriend’s “spiritually toxic affliction”) has a vision of Jesus, who tells her that Dean needs her right now.
And thus does the hilarity ensue and Saved! (directed by Brian Dannelly and co-written by Dannelly and Michael Urban) kick into gear.

“Come on. You’re not born a gay. You’re born again.”

One of the applaudable points of Saved! is that is doesn’t take any cheap shots in getting its laughs (and let’s face it, fundamentalist religion is such an easy target), while at the same time doing its best to explore (or at least touch on) subject matter that you don’t normally see in teen comedies: homosexuality, teen pregnancy, and faith.
And yes, Saved! is a teen comedy; the best one I’ve seen in quite awhile, as a matter of fact. And while it doesn’t transcend the genre, it does use it as a sound venue to explore issues of purpose and choice, of the constant struggle to find the answers to the questions life perpetually throws at us.
And though the film is not entirely free of stereotypes (thus are the perils of the teen comedy), the delicate, fragile strength of Jena Malone, the surprising mixture of cynical bravado and genuine caring of Eva Amurri’s Cassandra (the only Jew—read: heathen—at American Eagle High), and Mandy Moore (yes, that Mandy Moore) as self-righteous warrior of God, Hilary Fay, make for a portion of a pretty good ensemble. (Though some parts are underwritten, and echoes of what were an interesting performance in Party Monster by Macauley Culkin—who plays Roland, Hilary Fay’s disabled brother—turn into the dreaded beginnings of one-note acting here.)

Despite these shortcomings though, script and performance do intersect in some genuinely moving scenes: Mary’s moment of desperation and desolation at the foot of a cross; Hilary Fay’s prayer for guidance; the revelation shared by Mary and Cassandra in a comfort room.
The use of Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” (better known as the theme from The Exorcist), and Travis’ “Flowers in the Window” are also genuine delights in Saved!, as is the duet of Mandy Moore and Michael Stipe (of R.E.M.) on “God Only Knows” (which plays over the end credits). Stipe produced Saved!, as he did the glam rock remembrance, Velvet Goldmine, a few years back.
I mean, come on! Michael Stipe and Mandy Moore in a duet?! Whoduthunk?

“In the meantime, I was trying to find a new religion, or a new God, or whatever, but to tell you the truth, they’re all kind of freaking me out. I mean, sure, they can’t all be right, but they can’t all be wrong, right?”

Saved! is bitingly funny (in one scene, Mary and Hilary Fay are at the Emmanuel Shooting Range, whose tag line is “… an eye for an eye”), but is it offensive?
I honestly don’t think so.
I think Christians with a healthy sense of humor would get a kick out of it. (And I do think a healthy sense of humor is something everyone should have, regardless of faith.)
Commendably, Saved! does its best to portray its characters as real people with imperfect lives, who struggle with the specters of divorce, alcoholism, and childhood traumas, doing their best to be true to their chosen faith, to live up to the standards of their beliefs.
And they stumble, and some of them even resort to cruelty. (Though it should be noted that of the three principal “misfits”, Mary—the Christian—is the one totally innocent of any wrongdoing, while Roland and Cassandra—the “non-Christian” and the Jew—author one particularly nasty and vengeful act which precipitates hasty retribution.)

“No one fits in 100% of the time.”

Saved! is a rare sort of teen comedy. It isn’t a satire in the way Heathers or Election were; it’s more heartfelt than your usual satirical fare. And unlike Dogma, it doesn’t go to extreme (and at times, absurd) lengths to question the basic tenets of the religion it’s “attacking.”
It is, ultimately, a film that simply asks questions (as well one should), as do we all, at one point or another in our lives; questions of ourselves and our beliefs, of our choices and our decisions, and how those fit into the Greater Plan.
It also puts forward a possible answer: a faith that is inclusive of all, even the “freaks” and the “deviants” (as opposed to the largely exclusionary nature of most, if not all, the major systems of belief), for after all, wasn’t that what Jesus’ ministry was all about: the embracing of all, regardless of anything save for the fact that we are all God’s children, and we are all mirrors of His likeness.
Not bad for a teen comedy, wouldn’t you say?

(Saved! OS’s courtesy of


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space monkey said...

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