8. Saved! (2004) [Rated PG-13 for strong thematic issues involving teens – sexual content, pregnancy, smoking and language.]
summary from imdb.com:
When a girl attending a Christian high school becomes pregnant, she finds herself ostracized and demonized, as all of her former friends turn on her.
directed by: Brian Dannelly
starring: Jena Malone, Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin, Patrick Fugit, Heather Matarazzo, Eva Amurri, Martin Donovan, Mary-Louise Parker, Nicki Clyne, Valerie Bertinelli
Jena Malone: I was a member in good standing of the Christian Jewels. It’s sort of like a girl gang for Jesus.
[scene changes to a group of abortion clinic protesters:]
Jena shouts: Don’t kill your baby!
Eva Amurri: Hey, isn’t that…
Macaulay Culkin: Mary. What is she doing downtown?
Eva: There’s only one reason Christian girls come down to the Planned Parenthood.
Macaulay: She’s planting a pipe bomb?!
Eva: Okay, two reasons.
Eva Amurri: It doesn’t bother you to have people smoking around you? It’s so bad for the baby.
Jena Malone: I’m not pregnant, okay?
Eva: So, what’s your plan? It’s too late for the big A. You look like a smuggler. I know somewhere you could sell it.
Jena: I’m not gonna sell my…
Eva: It’s Dean’s, isn’t it? You can’t do this on your own.
Jena: Yes, I can.
Eva: No, you can’t.
Jena: I thought I was helping him. I thought it was… what Jesus wanted me to do. That’s pretty stupid, right?
Eva: It’s not stupid.
Mary-Louise Parker: Breathe, baby. Good girl. Just keep breathing. Good girl. You’re gonna be fine.
Jenna Malone narration: Okay, I’m pretty sure this isn’t what Jesus had in mind when he said, “Help Dean.” Look, don’t be too harsh. I’m not the first person to ever get the message screwed up.
Chad Faust: She’s perfect.
Jenna narration: Looking at her, it’s like life is too amazing to be this random and meaningless consequence of the universe. There had to be a God… or something out there. Something inside. You just have to feel it.
Jenna: Do you want to hold her?
Mary-Louise: Do you want to hold her, Dean?
Jenna narration: I mean, really, when you think about it… what would Jesus do? I don’t know… but in the meantime we’ll be trying to figure it out… together.
The film’s main flaw – the kind of narrow-mindedness of which it ironically accuses its subjects (in this case, the less religious a character, the more positively they are portrayed) – might be forgivable if Saved! made an interesting or original point, or just offered a few hearty laughs. But the movie’s brand of comedy is too sophomoric to be funny, the characters are developed in facile ways, and message lacks subtlety. Just because I may sympathize with some of what Dannelly has to say doesn’t mean I’m impressed by the way he chooses to say it. Sermonizing is sermonizing, regardless of whether the doctrine being preached is based on the Bible of the Church or the Bible of Liberal Politics. […]
Saved! treats religion as a disease, not a life choice. It’s something people need to be cured of in order to live a meaningful life. (Maybe they don’t have to give it up altogether, but the fundamentalist aspect needs to go.) In order to refine this point, Mary is made increasingly sympathetic the further she drifts from her beliefs. Most of the “true believers,” like Pastor Skip, Mary’s mother, and Hilary Faye, are shown to be hypocrites. And the sympathetic supporters are non-believers Roland and Cassandra. It doesn’t take long before it’s apparent that Dannelly’s objective with this film is not just to lampoon fundamentalism, but to express contempt for it. In this world, the path to salvation comes through renouncing Jesus, not embracing him.
The film’s good Christians can’t even be called Christians: they’re crippled (and atheists), they’re Jewish, and in the case of Patrick Fugit’s missionary skater boi, they’re more than happy to eroticize Christ’s crucifixion (how scandalous!). Surely it’s no coincidence that Fugit never mentions Jesus in the film but Moore’s character engages his name a good hundred times. In essence: Good Christians are born by distancing themselves from Christ.
Saved! — exclamation mark included — is directed by Brian Dannelly, who co-wrote the screenplay with Michal Urban, with an eye to the religious prejudices of the movie industry. He takes the theme of such recent movies as Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen or Mean Girls — that is the hothouse rivalries and hatreds of teenage girls — and turns the mean girls into Christians. Nor is their Christianity merely incidental to their nastiness. Like most movie Christians, they are either fanatical to the point of madness or merely hypocritical. Or both, as is the case with Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore), the meanest of the mean girls at American Eagle Christian Academy who makes life miserable for Mary (Jena Malone) and her outsider friends, the Jewish Cassandra (Eva Amurri) and the paraplegic Roland (Macaulay Culkin), who are the only cool people in the school.
Cool people are, of course, by Hollywood convention, unbelievers, and the film naturally takes it for granted that those who believe in Christ’s message of love for all mankind are more likely than others to be hateful, scheming prigs, devoted only to gossip and backbiting. Hilary Faye and the others get the chance to show their stuff here when Mary, in a desperate attempt to “cure” her boyfriend (Chad Faust) of his homosexuality and after getting (as she thinks) a personal assurance from Jesus that it is the Christian thing to do, becomes pregnant. The ridicule of the traditional Christian attitude to homosexuality is all part of the political subtext of the film, which also shows us a poster of George W. Bush up on the wall in Mary’s classroom along with a display devoted to “Creationism.” If you listen carefully you can also hear Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan) praying that — well, somebody — may “keep the presidency.”
Mr Donovan is hardly the first person you would think of in connection with such a role. But his lugubrious thoughtfulness, which got him his start in the movies of Hal Hartley actually works quite well in connection with a “with it” preacher who has Elmer Gantry-like secrets of his own but whose professional stock-in-trade is a cheerleader-like enthusiasm for G-O-D (“Gimmee a G!. . .”) He is just one of the movie’s good jokes. My favorite, however, is when, the Cassandra, the school’s lone Jewish pupil at the school spots Mary’s pregnancy and confides her suspicions to Roland. When he asks her how she knows, she replies: “There’s only one reason a Christian girl comes down to the Planned Parenthood.”
Startled, Roland asks: “She’s planting a pipe bomb?”
Like most of Saved’s humor, the joke is funny even though it is nasty and unfair to the Christian youths that are the too-easy target of its satire — and, of course, it bears little relation to the real world, in which no Planned Parenthood office has ever, so far as I know, been blown up by a Christian schoolgirl.
But at least this film does have something to satirize, which is more than can be said for most of the alleged satire of the toast of Cannes, Michael Moore. Mainly this is the absurdity of Christian efforts to be “cool,” as when Pastor Skip shouts with enthusiasm: “Let’s get our Christ on; let’s kick it Jesus-style.” Do even Christian schoolkids take this kind of thing seriously? Perhaps some do, but most must surely be as aware as are the “cool” themselves that they and all their works are the spawn of Satan. Are the pathetic few who prance about like Pastor Skip, trying to ingratiate themselves with the young, really worth the satiric effort?
And where the film may capture the absurdity of religion at the margins, it has no positive vision of its own. Its Christians may be deluded but hardly so much so — as the more serious kind of movie-goer may think — as the film-makers themselves, for whom all the problems of the world that religion addresses and all the fragile consolations it offers can be airily dismissed with a Hollywoody assurance that we can be perfectly happy and content in the world by doing what we feel like doing. Whatever else may be the truth of G-O-D, we can be certain He has not organized His world in that way.