In 10 Words or Less
Christian hypocrisy gets crucified
(Let me get this out of the way right up front. If you don't plan on reading this entire review before you e-mail a response or post on the boards, or if you plan on commenting on something other than the movie (i.e. my parents' marital status at the time of my birth, my sexuality or my ability to perform certain acts upon myself) then save your breath. I've heard it before, and it won't change my opinion of this movie. Thank you.)
On to the review... Saved! is a near-perfect blend of social commentary and teen movie, pitting the "Jesus freaks" of American Eagle Christian High School, led by singer-actress Mandy Moore's Hilary Faye, against the school's outsiders, represented by Mary (Jena Malone, Donnie Darko.) Mary was one of Hilary Faye's in-crowd until her boyfriend came out of the closet and was sent to be "de-gayed." Things get worse for her from there, and soon she finds herself ostracized, cast into the wilderness of unpopularity with the school's only Jew (Susan Sarandon's daughter, Eva Amurri), Hilary Faye's wheelchair-bound brother Roland (Macauley Culkin) and the son of the school's pastor, Patrick (Almost Famous' Patrick Fugit). Worst of all for her, Mary's mom Lillian (Mary-Louise Parker) and religious advisor, Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan, Insomnia) have their own problems to deal with, so they aren't much help.
It would be easy for the zealous to label this film as the kind of church-bashing movie that Dogma and The Last Temptation of Christ were unfortunately painted as. Just as Martin Luther was denigrated for pointing out the faults in the religion he loved, this movie illustrates what's wrong with religion gone wrong, and suffered for it. But while it is true that Moore's character represents the worst of Christian extremism, she's not the only kind of Christian portrayed in this movie. Mary (not the most subtle of name choices) is the Christian who sees the problems inherent in the religion and has her doubts. It's not that she doesn't believe, it's that she believes too much and is let down in the end, which forces her to question her relationship with God.
Patrick (named after the saint, perhaps?) believes as well...in fact, he is truer to his faith than any other teen in the film. But he also sees things about Christianity that he doesn't agree with. Unlike Mary though, he refuses to give up on his beliefs because of them. In positioning Patrick and Mary as good, though questioning Christians, the question this movie asks is, why is there a group of Christians like Hilary Faye who believe that the Marys and Patricks of the world are lesser Christians because they don't follow Christian dogma to the letter? There's no easy answer, and this movie refuses to manufacture one.
If Moore continues to give performances like this, the singer-actress tag will need to be reversed. Her dead-on interpretation of every televangelist's wife (in teen form) is hilarious, even if it should be rather scary. Similarly, Culkin and Fugit are excellent in roles that could have become mired in melodrama. Malone, on the other hand, is rather dull and low-key as Mary. Until the final scenes, her character's personal volume is so low, she could be a cardboard cut-out. The same cannot be said for Amurri, who is the rebel every school needs to keep things interesting. She's stereotypical, yes, but outlandish and fun. The rest of the cast, especially Heather Matarazzo as a girl walking a fine line between popularity and dork-dom, do tremendous work in supporting roles.
While I say this film is intelligent, it is anything but subtle. Hilary Faye's evangelical crew wear angel wings, Mary curses out a cross and Patrick's dad actually spells out the entire "crisis of faith" storyline in one awkward line. Add in Patrick's crucifixion and you've got a movie that nearly screams "look at me!" But then again, it's not exactly like religion is about subtlety. It is about believing and tolerance, though, and those are two things that are in short supply in this world. Perhaps if more people saw this movie, that would change. Do I really believe such optimism? In my heart, no. But you gotta have faith.
Saved! is presented in anamorphic widescreen on one DVD, with just one audio track, English 5.1 Dolby Surround. Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish, while the menus are anamorphic widescreen and static. Scene selections are accessible from the main menu, while a spate of special features are included as well.
The anamorphic widescreen transfer is simply beautiful. The colors are reproduced vividly, while the video is crisp, with out much grain at all. The black levels are very deep as well, setting off the bright colors. Bright reds, like Mary's Christmas sweatshirt, shimmer a bit, but overall it looks great.. I was most impressed with the night scenes, which didn't lose any edge definition in the darkness. Saved! doesn't have the most intense soundtrack, but the 5.1 track makes sure the mix is heard clearly. The dialogue is mainly center-locked, with some small surround effects to the sides and rear.
Two commentary tracks are the main attraction here, each with their own point of view. On the first chat, Malone and Moore take the microphone, during what seems to be a slumber party at the library. The track rarely rises above a whisper, as the girls talk about their hair, clothes and boobs. After getting the butt kissing and girly chat out of the way, they get down to some serious talk, discussing the philosophy behind the movie and their experiences in making the movie. That and how hot Jesus is. There's not much dead air, as Moore and Malone seem to have a genuinely good relationship, which never hurts when it comes to a commentary.
On the second track, the director, Brian Dannelly, his co-writer, Michael Urban, and producer Sandy Stern chat it up, in a track that veers more towards the technical making of Saved! The three have plenty to say about the movie, though there is a bit more quiet time than on the girls' track. There's a lot of talk about how they could make this movie on the cheap, thanks to the producers' help, and the important part music plays in it. It's got a lot of "aren't they great", but not enough to make a waste of the comments they make about the story and the controversial nature of the movie.
A fluffy EPK-type featurette called "Heaven Help Us" has interview clips with the principals of the movie, but there's not much new revealed here. That's not the case though with "Saved Revelations." Six choices reveal information about scenes that was either cut, obscured or never intended for the screen. It seems like much of this was cut in order to get a PG-13 rating. Two pages of deleted/extended scenes are also available, 11 in all. Only the alternate opening was really of much interest, and that was understandably removed. Rounding out the disc are eight MGM trailers, including the excellent preview for Saved!, and at least one Easter Egg (appropriate, huh?). (See DVDTalk.com's Easter Egg section for more info on how to find it.)
The Bottom Line
Sadly, with its message of tolerance and religious self-awareness, Saved! is speaking to the converted (or atheists), because those who really could benefit from the message will refuse to listen. It's as though their hold on their faith is so tenuous that just hearing opposite viewpoints could destroy their beliefs. Like Roland says, "What are you afraid of?" Well, too bad for them. The rest of us, we get to enjoy an intelligent and entertaining comedy that has a definite voice, something all too rare in satire today. God bless the makers of Saved! Lord knows, I'm down with the G-O-D, and this movie, which knows the difference between Christian and fascist. I highly recommend it, no matter who you send your prayers to.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.