That Good Old Religion
Mary (Jena Malone) is a happy young lady who attends the American Eagle Christian Academy where she is a proud member of the Christian Jewels singing group. Her single parent mother (Mary-Louise Parker) is also flying high after having a good year after having been named #1 Christian interior designer for the greater Baltimore area. What neither is aware of it that trouble looms on the horizon.
After her boyfriend, Dean (Chad Faust), tells her that he thinks he is gay, Mary has a vision of Jesus and decides after much soul-searching to go to bed with Dean to put him back on the right path away from evil. Dean’s parents later find magazines with photos of naked men and they understand that their son is gay and send him to the Mercy House Christian Treatment Center to eradicate his “spiritually toxic affliction.” Mary fees that God as deserted her and se begins to understand a little something about the way she is living.
Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore), the manipulative head of the Christian Jewels and the most outspoken and zealous believer in the senior class, leads prayer groups for Dean, and when she finds out that Mary is pregnant, turns against her big time. For kindness, Mary has to look to Cassandra (Eve Amurri), the school’s only Jew and a person who prides herself on going against the in-crowd. This rebel’s best friend is Roland (Macaulay Culkin), Hilary’s wheel-chair bound cynical brother. Not even Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan), the principal of the Academy and the secret lover of Mary’s mother, can handle the chaos that ensues leading up the grand finale of prom night.
This is a satire that pokes fun at the rigidity of proud, angry, and intolerant fundamentalist believers. It is not, as some critics have said) anti-Christian, rather it ridicules intolerance forms while making a case for the spiritual practice of hospitality. Brian Dannelly directs from a screenplay co-written with Michael Urban. Hilary’s faith is built upon her need for attention and power over others and, in effect, she is a zealot. The crusade against wickedness so takes her in her that she has no energy left for the heart and soul of the Gospel, which is loving one’s neighbor.
The film follows the traditional pattern of many other teenage movies. There’s a clique ruled by the snobbiest and most popular girl in school, and an opposition made up of outcasts, nonconformists and rebels. What makes this different is that this time it is that the teen queen, Hilary Faye, is the loudest Jesus praiser at American Eagle Christian High School. Her opposition is a group of kids who do not meet with her approval. Her brother Roland is in a wheelchair and rejects all forms of sympathy. He horrifies his sister by becoming Cassandra’s boyfriend. There’s also Patrick (Fugit), member of a Christian skateboarding team and the son of Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan), the school’s widowed principal who is carrying on an affair wit Mary’s mother. Patrick is thoughtful and introspective and isn’t sure he agrees with his father’s complacent morality.
The first half of this movie sharply satirizes the values of Hilary Faye’s values and those of her born-again friends. When Mary sacrifices her virginity to conquer Dean’s homosexuality, she’s a member of Hilary Faye’s singing trio, the Christian Jewels, and a high-ranking celebrity among the school’s Jesus boosters. But the worldly Cassandra notices her pregnancy before anyone else does, and soon the unwed mother-to-be is hanging out with the gay, the Jew and the kid in the wheelchair. Patrick, who is having his own rebellion against Pastor Skip chooses to be with the rebels.
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The film argues that Jesus would have embraced the cast-outs and the misfits, and might have leaned toward situational ethics instead of rigid morality. “Saved!” is an important little film as well as an entertaining one. It has a political message by showing that Jesus counseled more for acceptance and tolerance than some of his followers think. By the end of the movie, mainstream Christian values have not been overthrown, but demonstrated and embraced. Director Brian Dannelly, also wants to be a peace offering in the culture wars, suggesting that the polarization of our society is a smoke screen for our own internal confusion about values, morals and desire.
Extras on the DVD include one audio commentary by director and co-writer Brian Dannelly, producer Sandy Stern, and co-writer Michael Urban, and another commentary by stars Mandy Moore and Gena Malone. There’s also a “Heaven Help Us” featurette and some deleted scenes and bloopers.