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May 2004

By Julian Roman

Distributor: MGM/ UA
Director: Brian Dannelly
Producer: Michael Stipe, Sandy Stern, Michael Ohoven, & William Vince
Screenwriter: Brian Dannelly & Michael Urban
Director of Photography: Bobby Bukowski
Composer: Christopher Beck
Cast: Mandy Moore, Jena Malone, Macaulay Culkin, Patrick Fugit, Heather Matarazzo, Eva Amurri, Martin Donovan, & Mary-Louise Parker


Saved is a biting satire of Christian fundamentalism and the pop culture movement spawned by it. It'll generate controversy, but will have the opposite effect of The Passion of the Christ. Christian conservatives flocked to The Passion because of its interpretation of the Bible. They will despise Saved for exactly the same reason. Saved embraces liberal lifestyles, such as homosexuality, and portrays them as being inclusive to Christianity. This is heresy to most Christian denominations, so it's not likely those people will support the film. That being said, Saved is a funny and fearless movie. It has the guts to run with its premise and that needs to be respected.

The story follows a group of devout teenagers during their senior year at American Eagle Christian High School. Mary (the superb Jena Malone) is terrified when her boyfriend Dean (Chad Faust) admits that he is gay. She decides it's her duty to save him from his homosexuality by having sex with him. They attempt it, but he never gets excited enough to go all the way. One afternoon he's masturbating to gay porn when Mary stops by for another try. This time it's a success, but the results are disastrous. Mary gets pregnant and Dean is sent to a Christian institute for deprogramming gays. Wracked with guilt and uncertainty, Mary hides her condition from everyone, especially Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore); the domineering and vindictive leader of her social group.

Mary descends into loneliness until her secret is found out by Cassandra (Eva Amurri), the school's one Jewish student and resident bad girl. Cassandra is lusted after by Roland (Macauly Culkin); Hilary Faye's sarcastic but gentle, wheelchair-bound brother. They come to Mary's aide and help her throughout her pregnancy. As Mary gets closer to term, she begins to question her faith and the values she's been taught. Which leads to a conflict with the girls in her former social group. The situation worsens when Patrick (Patrick Fugit), the son of the school's pastor, ignores Hilary Faye's advances and falls in love with Mary. Hilary Faye becomes jealous and targets Mary with her duplicitous schemes, always using religion as the reason for her cruelty.

Saved is one of those films where everybody learns a lesson and grows in the end. This is annoying because it makes the film utterly predictable. Each character does what they're supposed to do. There's never any doubt about the outcome. It's unlikely that anyone will have their mind changed or learn to be more tolerant after seeing the film. So the film's approach is kind of wasted if all the characters learn something and the audience does not. It's not smart enough to be that engaging, but there are a lot of laughs to be had.

Jena Malone continues to shine as one of Hollywood's best young actresses. She stands alone as the most realistic and complex character in the film. Everyone else is typecast. Playing caricatures of what we normally see them do. Mary is easily relatable as a girl stuck in a desperate situation. She's alone, pregnant, and confused. Many girls face similar situations in life and Jena Malone delivers a convincing performance. It would have been unforgivable if Mary's predicament was not taken seriously. The pregnancy is the crux of the movie and all the film's complications arise from it. Her character's growth is genuine. When an event occurs that rattles your belief system, an individual has no choice but to reflect. Mary questions her beliefs and comes to a logical conclusion. Jena Malone, who always does great work, ratchets up another fine performance.

Saved is very similar to Tina Fey's brilliant Mean Girls. Both films try to expose the shallow, self-serving nature of people, but Mean Girls is cleverer. It gets to the point without using sledgehammer tactics. Saved is an enjoyable movie experience. It has many humorous moments, despite its flaws. Christian fundamentalism is ripe for satire and Saved effectively mocks it.