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Saved! /

Rated: PG-13

Starring: Jena Malone, Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin, Chad Faust, Patrick Fugit

Directed by: Brian Dannelly

Produced by: Michael Stipe, Sandy Stern, William Vince, Michael Ohoven
Written by: Brian Dannelly, Michael Urban
Distributor: United Artists


Jena Malone as Mary in MGM's Saved!

Mandy Moore as Hilary Faye in MGM's Saved!
Macaulay Culkin as Roland in MGM's Saved!

     Calling Saved! cheap controversy would be accurate, but I do not necessarily look at this in a bad light. In all honesty, it would be hard for me to say that director Brian Dannelly intended to make a life-affirming picture. What he has crafted, however, is a witty and amusing one, realistically poking fun of organized religion, targeting Christianity, in a mostly inoffensive way. Saved! makes for an insightful, but entirely forgettable, sit, with some great performances and writing on its side.

     Jena Malone plays the main character, Mary, who attends an obsessive Baptist school. There, everything circulates around religion, day in and day out, as students serve what they believe to be the will of God. Hilary Faye (played by a maturing Mandy Moore), in particular, is a bit of a Jesus freak. Despite the compulsion of Christianity, everything at the American Eagle School is in order and functioning smoothly. Small-scale chaos erupts, though, when Mary’s boyfriend, Dean (Chad Faust), is discovered to be gay by all of the students. Mary tried to save him before summer’s end, motivating him sexually in every way possible, but such attempts failed. He is sent away to be reformed by his parents, while she finds out that she is pregnant after she engaged in intercourse with him, sans protection (she believes Jesus told her to). Things become worse when Hilary Faye refuses to be Mary’s friend anymore because she blames Jesus for all of the bad things that have happened to her. The only people left to befriend are the only two seemingly rational people in school, Roland (Macaulay Culkin), Hilary Faye’s paralyzed brother, and Cassandra (Eva Amurri), a Jewish outsider who has to attend American Eagle because she was expelled from her previous school.

      There are several flaws in Saved! (I will explain the one that particularly bothers me later), but Dannelly and his co-writer, Michael Urban, have fashioned a rather insightful satire, nevertheless. Unfathomable enjoyment can be found in the fanatical qualities that some of the characters bear. From the always egotistical Hilary Faye to her pompous followers, who always believe they’re behaving properly because their actions are biblically correct in their eyes, laughs are abundant in even the most serious of scenes. I definitely prefer the light-hearted moments of Saved! over the deeper ones, because Dannelly’s philosophy is too simplistic to explore anything of tortuousness well.

     For Mandy Moore and Jena Malone, Saved! was a fantastic opportunity. Both have a few awful movies on their resumes, but this one definitely confirms that they’re both dignified actresses. Moore is the highlight of the entire movie; her character is not only the best written in it, but also the best performed. After seeing Chasing Liberty, I was a bit afraid of what her career might become, but here, she finds the right groove and steers herself back on track.

     While essential to the plot, the only truly problematic character is Dean, Mary’s homosexual ex-boyfriend. One exchange of dialogue between she and he is especially counterproductive to the entire movie, and so is the entire ending which it inspires. “You’re pregnant? On the first time?” he inquires, and she responds with a weak “Yeah.” “Cool” he says, bringing a sort of villainous approval about his making her pregnant. This almost makes him seem like the antagonist of the movie, when he should be gaining our sympathy. Dannelly would like us to think that Dean’s parents were the evil ones, in sending him away to try to be “rescued” from his sexual preference, and that his procreating with Mary helped her find herself and make amends with God. I just can’t buy that this makes him a deserving guy, though. Wouldn’t the whole situation have been resolved if they were, in fact, “Good” Christians? (Nod your head in approval, now). In my mind, being a “Good” Christian does not entail obsession, just faith and following the guidelines set forward by the religion. I’m not biased in the favor of such belief, either; I’m actually agnostic. I suppose that could make my opinion both more and less qualified, depending on the way you look at it.

     I’m marginally recommending Saved! simply because I think its positive features outweigh its negative ones. Without the great one-liners and terrific performances, though, my rating of it would probably drop by two buckets. Most of the time, it’s a stupendous experience, and this is just enough for me to reflect upon it with joy instead of anguish.

-Danny, Bucket Reviews (6.15.2004)

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