Reviewed By Brian McKay
Posted 06/19/04 07:43:05

"It’s Not Just Another Teen Movie – Praise Jesus!"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Okay, so maybe it is just another teen comedy with the obligatory romantic subplot(s) at its core. But this time, it’s on a mission from God, and that mission is greatly facilitated by some enjoyable characters played by an equally enjoyable cast, and by writing and directing that’s a notch or two above the usual standard we’ve come to expect from the regurgitated teen sex farce template.

Mary (Jenna Malone) is a good Christian high-school girl – or at least she’s trying to be. But the fact that her also-Christian figure-skating boyfriend Dean (Chad Faust) appears to have a little problem with “The Gay” is really putting her faith through the paces. After a desperate last-ditch prayer for guidance, she is struck with the idea that the only way to cure him of “The Gay” is to have sex with him – hopefully swaying him back over to the side of the home team in the process.

Alas, it doesn’t work. Not only does Dean end up getting sent to a Christian-run deprogramming center to be cured of his gayness (and unwisely given a roommate who is there for the same reason), but Mary soon comes to find that she’s pregnant – and there’s no chalking this one up to immaculate conception.

Meanwhile, while trying to keep her secret, Mary attends her Baptist high school, where she has to put up with her bitchy and judgmental popular-girl friend Hilary Faye (a surprisingly nasty and enjoyable Mandy Moore), as well as struggle with her attraction to the Pastor’s son, Patrick (the awesome Patrick Fugit of Almost Famous). Although Patrick reciprocates her feelings, she keeps her distance from him because of her situation. Eventually the secret gets out, however, and she finds herself shunned by Hilary Faye and the other snooty Christ-girls, only to be befriended by Hilary’s handicapped and smart-ass brother Roland (Macaulay Culkin) and his troublemaking (and really hot) bad-girl girlfriend Cassandra (Eva Amurri), who just happens to be the school’s only Jewish student and takes pride in the fact that she is a heathen destined for hell. Meanwhile, overseeing the school is Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan), one of these “hip” middle-aged pastors who tries to be cool by saying things like “Jesus is in the Hizouse”, but struggles with his own faith and his attraction to Mary’s single mother, Lillian (Mary Louise Parker).

While Saved is clearly out to stir up a little controversy by poking fun at Christianity in general and the Christian Youth culture in particular, it refrains from the usual Hollywood High Horse of mean-spirited condemnation. Only the most narrow-minded and judgmental will be truly offended by Saved, because above all the film preaches a message of tolerance to both sides of the fence. And although that message is sometimes ham fistedly conveyed with fits of slightly overdramatic dialogue, the sentiments behind it feel genuine, and the actors convey it with enough feeling to elevate it above cliché. And while some of the jokes fall flat, most of the humor hits dead-on.

The greatest asset of Saved is probably its winning cast. Jena Malone has just the right look and personality to play Mary. She’s not a “hot chick”, but she’s very cute and vulnerable and sympathetic as the film’s protagonist. Patrick Fugit is the same solid actor and all-around likable kid that he was in Almost Famous, although he comes off here with a more mature aura about him. Macaulay Culkin is probably the most enjoyable player – his portrayal of Roland has just the right mix of thoughtfulness and rebelliousness. And not only do Culkin and Amurri have solid chemistry, but they are both damn funny in their roles, while Amurri’s bad-girl character has an underlying streak of compassion – even for someone as plastic and hypocritical as Moore’s Hilary Faye.

But the most refreshing thing about SAVED is that it’s not about Christian-bashing. And while it offers some hilariously scathing commentary on the inherent dangers of hypocrisy and intolerance that exist within any religion, the message is never “CHRISTIANITY=BAD!” With the exception of Hillary Faye, most of the characters are portrayed with enough feeling to be much more than just one-note stereotypes. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend SAVED to my Christian friends, and would like to think that they, and hopefully the majority of Christians, would be open-minded enough to roll with the comedic punches and embrace the message behind them.

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