Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 6/27/04 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.
Saved! is a teen comedy set in a modern-day American Christian high school about a young woman named Mary whose life has always been influenced by Jesus and Christianity. Then when she learns her boyfriend is gay and tries to save him by having sex with him, she ends up being pregnant and alienated by her peers including zealot Hilary Faye where Mary is forced to join the school’s outcasts. Directed by Brian Dannelly from a script he co-wrote with Michael Urban, Saved! is a part satire, part teen-comedy that isn’t attacking Christianity but rather study the narrow-minded attitude of some its people including preachers and followers. Starring Jena Malone, Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin, Patrick Fugit, Eva Amurri, Heather Matarazzo, Mary-Louise Parker, and Martin Donovan, Saved! is one of the year’s smartest comedies.
The young life of Mary (Jena Malone) has always been driven by her devotion to Jesus Christ and the Christian faith as she lives with her mother Lillian (Mary-Louise Parker). Mary's seemingly perfect life is suddenly shattered when her boyfriend Dean (Chad Faust) reveals to her that he might be gay. After seeing a vision of Jesus Christ, Mary believes that it's her mission to save Dean as she takes the advice of her friend Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore). Mary decides to lose her virginity to Dean as a sacrificial act but Dean is sent to a clinic over his homosexuality making Mary feel upset as she's set to return to American Eagle Christian School for her senior year.
With Hilary and Hilary's cynical, wheelchair-bound brother Roland (Macaulay Culkin) returning as well, Mary notices that also returning is the Jewish bad girl Cassandra (Eva Amurri) and a new student in Patrick, who is the son of their principal Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan). During an assembly with Veronica (Elizabeth Thai) as Hilary and Mary are part of the elite Christian Jewels group, Cassandra causes trouble as Roland is impressed by Cassandra. Mary later learns that she's pregnant as she learns that Hilary is holding an intervention about Dean leading to an argument between the two as Mary is kicked out of the Christian Jewels as she's replaced by Tia (Heather Matarazzo). Feeling like an outcast, Mary becomes friends with Cassandra as she and Roland help Mary out as she starts to have feelings towards Patrick. Mary's time with Roland and Cassandra helps her deal with her issues while her mother starts to date Pastor Skip.
Cassandra decides to battle it out with Hilary over her hypocritical stance as Mary and Roland help Cassandra out with this new war. Hilary starts to fire back where Mary's secret is revealed as it leads to problems between Lillian and Pastor Skip. For Roland, the battle isn't over as he decides to help Mary and Cassandra go on a final battle at prom against Hilary with some unexpected help.
While the film has a nice balance of drama and comedy along with satire throughout the film, Brian Dannelly makes sure the film isn’t trying to be offensive but more of something everyone to enjoy. Throughout the film, the movie has some hilarious comedic sequences including a scene involving a TV-movie starring Valerie Bertinelli that leads to Mary wanting to have cancer instead of being pregnant. The comedic aspects are very silly in a fun way while the dramatic aspects is pretty restrained to encompass on the film’s entertaining presentation. The only major flaw with the film is the ending, mostly because its too nice and doesn’t leave much for anything realistic where you want to know what happens to many of the characters at the end.
While the film’s screenplay and directing works for the most part, the film’s look from cinematographer Bobby Bukowski is very colorful and exquisite in the outside scenes while looking very realistic in the interior school and mall scenes with a lot of credit due to production designer Tony Devenyi and art director Kristina Lyne. The film’s look is perfect for this comedy along with the look of the school uniforms where it plays well to its individual players from its costume designer Wendy Chuck. Even the film’s music is very light-hearted and catchy, even playing to some cheesiness in the Christian music with very funny lyrics from music composer Christophe Beck along with contributions of music from the Replacements in the prom scene and Mandy Moore doing a fine duet of the Beach Boys’ God Only Knows with the film’s producer and R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe.
The film has a very fine cast with some small but stellar performances from Heather Matarazzo as Faye’s suck-up friend Tia, who is funny while Elizabeth Thai is excellent as Faye’s partner-in-crime. Martin Donovan gives a fine performance as Pastor Skip who brings a very hilarious, cool approach to preaching with lines like “Who’s down with the G-O-D” while brings his masterful dramatic performances in his scenes as a father and with Mary-Louise Parker. Parker also shines as Mary’s mother in her moments of infatuation with Skip but does better in her scenes with Jena Malone as a mother who doesn’t know until the end where she really brings her mastery of drama. Chad Faust is also fine in his small role as Mary’s gay boyfriend Dean while Patrick Fugit unfortunately, doesn’t do much in his role as Mary’s love interest. Fugit does a nice job with his role but isn’t given much to as far as development is concerned and there is confusion sometimes when he’s with Hilary Faye and we don’t really know why other than the fact that he likes Mary.
Mandy Moore is a total riot throughout the entire film with her over-the-top performance with lines of “I am filled with Christ love” and her Jesus speeches in which they’re so funny. Throughout the film, Moore just comes off as this misguided girl who really begins to alienate everyone but by the film’s end, she tries to become some martyr in which, doesn’t really work and her character in the end, doesn’t get any resolve. Of the supporting cast, Eva Amurri delivers a breakthrough performance as the bad-girl Cassandra. Bringing a flat-out, edgy comedic performance, Amurri brings an energy and likeability to her character that just wants to be herself and not be tagged into any category. The daughter of actress Susan Sarandon, Amurri has now officially arrived. Macaulay Culkin is also spellbinding as the cynical yet charming Roland with his witty commentary on Hilary Faye’s mission to save people. Culkin brings a smile to everyone with his intellectual view on faith while just wanting to have fun while in scenes with Amurri, the two shines with great chemistry as Culkin is finally on his way out of child stardom hell.
The film’s best performance easily goes to Jena Malone in her sympathetic portrayal as the anguished and disillusioned Mary. Malone brings her character some flaws from a girl who is just misguided to someone who grows up and learns that you don’t really need to be restricted by all of these guidelines in how to live her life. Malone has proven herself to being one of the best young actresses of her generation where she proved she can do love scenes with Fugit. Notably as she can light up in scenes with Culkin and Amurri as it's one of her best performances of her career.
While it’s not the funniest film of the year, Saved! is still a smart comedy from Brian Dannelly with great performances from Jena Malone, Macaulay Culkin, Eva Amurri, and Mandy Moore. The film isn’t very offensive but rather give light that God can be misunderstood at times through people who can take him very seriously. There’s nothing wrong with faith or anything, it’s just that people needs to find a balance. Saved! is smart in making a comedy that is entertaining and enlightening without trying to be too subversive or overtly preachy.
(C) thevoid99 2011