June 13, 2004

Movie Review: ‘Saved’

The best movie trailer I’ve seen in a long time is that of Saved! If there were an Oscar for best trailers, then this one would deserve at least a nomination. In the trailer, we learn that Saved! is a satire about evangelical Christianity, specifically white upper middle-class evangelical Christianity. In one bit, we see a preppy high school girl angrily throw a Bible at the back of another girl and declare that she is “filled with Christ’s love.” In another bit, we see the nerdy, gangsta’-wannabe white youth pastor jive with some high school students and ask if they’re “down with G-O-D.”

Unfortunately—yes, you guessed it—the funniest parts in Saved! are contained in the trailer. The film has a few other funny moments, but not many. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the movie and would probably watch it again.

The story centers around Mary (Jenna Malone, American Girl) and her friends at American Eagle Christian High School. Mary is part of the cool clique at school, the self-proclaimed Christian Jewels, and everything is going well in her life…until she finds out that she’s pregnant. (She only had sex because she thought Jesus wanted her to—after all, her boyfriend had just told her that he might be gay and she felt that losing her virginity with him might save him from homosexuality and the eternal fires of hell.) In Mary’s effort to conceal her pregnancy, she ends up questioning the very tenets of her faith and, as a result, is ostracized from the Jewels, which is led by Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore, A Walk to Remember). She also becomes friends with the school’s only two non-Christians, the paraplegic Roland (Macaulay Culkin, Richie Rich) and the Jewish Cassandra (Eva Amurri, The Banger Sisters).

Now the movie, directed by Brian Dannelly (He Bop), is a satire, intended to expose many of the sins and absurdities of modern-day Evangelicalism. And as a satire, certain parts of it work very well. For instance, it’s justified in poking fun of those nerdy white youth pastors who try to be cool and speak gangsta’ in an effort to reach souls for their homeboy Jesus—such antics are sometimes irreverent and almost always ridiculous. And Moore’s character—who is a caricature of your typical self-centered, holier-than-thou Christian youth—is all too true-to-life. How many of us have known (or have been!) Christians who proclaim Christ’s love yet are too consumed in materialism and self-love to really care about others? The movie has a number of other attacks against Evangelicalism that hit the mark. These jabs often found me laughing—and they often found me convicted of my own sin and self-centeredness.

Unfortunately, the movie never takes the time to redeem true Christianity. All of the film’s moral characters are unbelievers. With one possible exception, every Christian in the film is portrayed as being a total nutcase. And those Christians who are able to grow and mature only do so after rejecting orthodox Christianity and embracing a melted-down, pluralistic version of it. I wish so badly that a Christian would have got his hands on the script and shown the world that one can both believe in historical Christianity and, at the same time, be loving and…mentally stable.

Despite its flaws, I enjoyed the film quite a bit. For all of its weaknesses, Saved! gives us a cast of interesting, likable characters. Malone’s character is by far my favorite. She brings this scared, confused teenager to life, and, through it all, we genuinely care about Mary and her plight. Culkin and Amurri also excel. Over time, they develop a genuine love for one another and watching them get there is both fun and heart-warming. The final scene is also beautiful and sweet—hey, it made my eyes a little teary!

In sum, as a social commentary, Saved! only works up to a point and then becomes trite and Hollywoodized. But as a human drama, Saved! surprisingly shows true heart and tells an entertaining and touching story.

Originally published on MichaelRay’s xanga page.