Saved! United Artists presents a film directed by Brian Dannelly. Written by Brian Dannelly and Michael Urban. Running time: 92 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for strong thematic issues involving teens -- sexual content, pregnancy, smoking and language). Starring Jena Malone, Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin, Patrick Fugit, Heather Matarazzo, Martin Donovan, Mary-Louise Parker, Eva Amurri, Chad Faust.


Saved! is a pointed satire of religious fundamentalism set in the trappings of a teen movie. Through a clever blend of smart jokes and broad humor, co-writer/director Brian Dannelly criticizes Christian evangelicals as the hypocrites that they are. It's consistently funny, sometimes outright hilarious, and it's about time someone had the guts to take on the religious right in a mainstream film, considering how insane that group can be.

Mary (Jena Malone) is a student at American Eagle Christian High School and is a member of a Christian singing trio, the Christian Jewels, along with the most popular girl in school, Hillary Faye (Mandy Moore), and another girl whose name escapes me. Everything changes when Mary's Christian boyfriend, Dean (Chad Faust) admits to her his homosexuality. In a head-trauma-induced vision, she believes Jesus tells her to save Dean; so, of course, Mary has sex with Dean in an attempt to "cure" him. But the Jesus she saw was the pool boy; Dean is sent to a clinic that specializes in "degayification" and Mary ends up pregnant. Turned off of Jesus, Mary is ostracized by Hillary Faye and her clique and has to join up with the outsiders of American Eagle, Cassandra (Heather Matarazzo), the wild Jew, and Roland (Macaulay Culkin), Hillary Faye's wheelchair-bound brother.

Also involved is Patrick (Patrick Fugit), Mary's prospective love interest, and possibly the most sympathetic character in the film. Patrick is the son of Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan), American Eagle's principal, and he represents the type of Christianity that Dannelly embraces - the real Christianity, the tolerance and acceptance practiced by a fairly important figure that you may have heard of; his initials were J.C. Patrick accepts Mary and sees Hillary Faye for what she is; he is also rebelling against his father's narrowmindedness, and he has a great scene at the end where he confronts his father, a scene that sums up Saved!'s ultimate point.

Which is not one against religion, but one against unyielding fundamentalism and intolerance. The sharp attacks of the first third (Statement: "There's only one reason Christian girls come downtown to the Planned Parenthood!" Response: "She's planting a pipe bomb?") give way to more subtle humor and a real message. It is impossible to constantly follow one strict moral code; situational ethics are more important than one unchanging set of rules, as well as more practical. Mary's actions weren't wrong just because she had sex out of wedlock; what she did was done for love, and she thought she was doing the right thing. Jesus would accept the outsiders, the film argues, without them having to strictly follow his teachings.

Saved!'s acting is uniformly strong. Jena Malone, the girlfriend in Donny Darko, captures Mary's hurt and confusion perfectly; she is among the most talented young actresses working today. Mandy Moore finally proves what a natural and good actress she is, in a hilarious and courageous performance that sends up the simplistic set of idealistic morals on display in her other films. It's a risky career move, but a brilliant one. And Macaulay Culkin proves once and for all that he is a real, respectable actor.

I agree with the film, which might be one of the reasons it worked so well for me. As I have previously stated, I am an atheist. But I am one out of personal logic and thinking, and not out of hate or dislike for religion. I understand the importance of organized religion, and the good it can do when exercised correctly. Saved! explains how Christianity should be handled. This will upset the people who believe that they are right and anything or anybody who says differently is wrong and going to hell, but anyone who can't understand or accept what Saved! is trying to say is exactly the kind of person that the movie makes fun of, and I just have to thank them for proving its point so ably.

© 2004 Matt Noller