Christian hypocrisy gets crucified
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.
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.)
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