out of Five
Running time: 92
Cleverly written, impressively acted, frequently hilarious comedy that transcends easy satire and manages to deliver an important message.
Saved! is the debut feature from writer-director Brian Dannelly and his writing partner Michael Urban. It was a big hit with audiences at this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival and it deserves to repeat that success now that it’s on nationwide release, as it easily ties with Mean Girls for the title of the year’s Best Teen Comedy.
Jesus Made Me Do It
Jena Malone stars as Mary, a popular senior year student at the American Eagle Christian High School in Baltimore, where she’s also part of a singing group, led by her best friend, the domineering Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore).
When Mary’s boyfriend Dean (Chad Faust) tells her he thinks he might be gay, she takes it upon herself to “save” him by having sex with him in the hopes of converting him. Unfortunately this backfires rather spectacularly and, one not-so-immaculate conception later, Mary finds herself pregnant and ostracised by her former best friends, while Dean is packed off to a retreat for “degayification”.
Increasingly unsure of her beliefs, Mary finds herself drawn to the school’s other social outcasts, including Hilary Faye’s wheelchair-bound brother Roland (Macaulay Culkin) and Cassandra (Eva Amurri, Susan Sarandon’s daughter), the only Jewish girl in school and rebel with an exhibitionist streak. She also strikes up a relationship with Patrick (Patrick Fugit), the skateboarding son of the school’s head teacher, Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan). Meanwhile, Pastor Skip has problems of his own, as he finds himself falling for Mary’s mother (Mary Louise Parker).
Jena Malone (previously best known as Donnie Darko’s girlfriend) makes a sweet, appealing lead and there’s strong comic support from the rest of the cast, particularly Heather Matarazzo and Mandy Moore, who seizes the chance to poke fun at her own goody-two-shoes image.
Other stand-outs include Eva Amurri, who’s both sexy and funny as Cassandra, and, surprisingly, Macaulay Culkin, who gives a relaxed, likeable performance. Extra praise is also due to whoever cast Mary Louise Parker as Malone’s mother, because they genuinely look like they’re related.
Packed Full Of Hilarious Scenes
Saved! is packed full of hilarious scenes and the intelligent, well written script contains several witty exchanges and quotable lines, such as, “Oh yeah? Well at least I didn’t get pregnant by my gay boyfriend and pretend Jesus made me do it!” The characters are also really well written and seem like real people rather than obvious stereotypes. (Note, too, that these are high school students who are actually allowed to have spots).
Though the film might initially seem like a straightforward satire of
Christian fundamentalism, it’s actually a lot smarter than that: the impressive thing about Saved! is that it pulls off the difficult balancing act of delivering a genuine, heartfelt message of tolerance and acceptance whilst also hitting all the bases required for a teen comedy. More importantly, it gets its point across without being overly preachy or resorting to the usual sugar-drenched clichés.
In short, Saved! is a thoroughly enjoyable teen comedy with something important to say and it’ll be interesting to see what Dannelly and Urban come up with next. Highly recommended.