(director/writer: Brian Dannelly; screenwriter: Michael Urban; cinematographer: Bobby Bukowski; editor: Pamela Martin; music: Christophe Beck; cast: Jena Malone (Mary), Mandy Moore (Hilary Faye), Macaulay Culkin (Roland), Patrick Fugit (Patrick), Heather Matarazzo (Tia), Eva Amurri (Cassandra), Chad Faust (Dean), Elizabeth Thai (Veronica), Martin Donovan (Pastor Skip), Mary-Louise Parker (Lillian); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Michael Stipe/Sandy Stern/Michael Ohoven/William Vince; United Artists; 2004)

“An inconsequential teen comedy.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Both director Brian Dannelly and co-screenwriter Michael Urban had fundamentalist Christian upbringings, with Dannelly attending a Christian school.

Saved! is an inconsequential teen comedy that sparked some controversy because it aims its satire on fundamentalist Christians. Ted Baehr of the Christian Film And Television Commission warning that the film has been marketed “to Christian children to try to divorce them from their faith,” makes me wonder how soft does Baehr think his religion is that it can’t withstand this mediocre film’s mild barbs. Saved! is a relentless one-joke comedy skewering teen conformity and those who blindly follow Jesus and twist Jesus’s message of love around by acting intolerant. All the one-dimensional characters start out mildly grating but soon become wearisome to the point that they are unbearably grating. The comedy is delivered by taking easy pot shots at the cardboard characters and by tacky jokes that have no bite. I also might add that the timid jokes were not funny nor enlightening.

The film’s best joke is when one character reflects out loud: “There’s only one reason Christian girls come downtown to the Planned Parenthood!” The other responds: “She’s planting a pipe bomb?”

Mary (Jena Malone) is a “good Christian girl” attending the American Eagle Christian Academy where the obedient high school senior is a proud member of the esteemed clique called the Christian Jewels. The leader of that popular group is the overbearing film’s heavy, mean-spirited rich girl and super-devout but narrow-minded Christian, Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore).

Mary’s ideal world is shattered when the born-again believer’s “good guy” boyfriend Dean (Chad Faust) tells her he might be gay. When Mary has a vision of Jesus and decides that Jesus wants her to save Dean, she sacrifices her cherished virginity and goes to bed with Dean to cure him from the sin of homosexuality. Dean’s parents find evidence that their son might be gay, and he is promptly sent away to the Mercy House Christian Treatment Center for deprogramming. Mary becomes pregnant and when this becomes public, her former friends ostracize her. As Mary starts questioning herself and wonders why God deserted her she joins the school’s other pariahs, Cassandra (Eva Amurri) and Roland (Macaulay Culkin), who openly rebel at the Christian school’s close-minded programs. Cassandra is the token Jew in the school, who has a history of being bounced from other schools because of her discipline problems and was given the unlikely choice of either attending the Christian school or home tutoring. Roland is the cynical wheelchair-bound brother of Hilary’s, who is attracted to the free-spirited Cassandra. He aches to become independent and separate himself from his domineering sister, who treats him as an inferior. Through his relationship with Cassandra and not through Jesus, he finds himself saved. As for Mary, she will be saved when dreamy skateboarder Patrick (Patrick Fugit), the gentle son of the Christian school’s awkwardly cool principal Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan), enrolls after completing a missionary stint and immediately falls for her. Patrick even forgives Mary for twisting around Jesus’s message to save someone through sex instead of spiritual love.

Mary’s widowed single parent mother Lillian (Mary-Louise Parker) feels great after having been named #1 Christian interior designer in the region. In one of the subplots Lillian is attracted to Pastor Skip, but is frustrated because she doesn’t know how to get him to forget about his marriage vows and woo her.

The problem with this parody, was the Christian types poked fun at are already parodies and therefore their uptight views cannot be exaggerated any further to make them more comical. The film never reached for psychological depth, as it instead settled for the actors hamming it up and never getting around to giving their characterizations a reasonable rationale for their actions. The Christians seemed no different after discovering they were duped by their religious beliefs than they were when first seen as true believers. In the end, the film’s push for tolerance seemed half-hearted and empty. Everything felt self-congratulatory, as if by stating the obvious the film thought of itself as delivering an important humanistic message–one that I might add seemed condescending and delivered in a self-righteous manner.

Saved! (2004)