Rated: PG-13 for strong thematic issues involving teens - sexual content, pregnancy, smoking and language. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: May 28, 2004 Released by: United Artists
This pointed satire on Christianity by Brian Dannelly has plenty of ideas and philosophizing brewing throughout relative to born-again and conservative moralizing. But, Saved! is an uneven, ambitious high school comedy that attempts to make one think about acceptance and tolerance.
Dannelly has assembled a respectable cast of older teens and young adults like Jena Malone, Macaulay Culkin, Mandy Moore, and Patrick Fugit. His setting is American Eagle Christian High where Malone's Mary is well-liked.
The screenplay by Dannelly and Michael Urban has a hip, but uneven quality to it and though characters display passion in their actions they strain to earn viewer sympathy. It may in part be a judgmental approach to the tenets espoused at their parochial school.
Mary's blessed life is rattled when boyfriend Dean (Chad Faust) admits to her that he might be gay. A dream of Jesus turns her into a missionary to correct his problem, she must do "everything she can to help him." The plan backfires and results in her becoming pregnant.
Moore's character, Hillary Faye (modeled somewhat after Tammy Faye?), has a little of Rachel McAdams' Queen Bee Regina from "Mean Girls" in her. She is Mary's best friend. Once May starts questioning her faith, Hilary Fate deems it necessary to ostracize her from the "Christian Jewels."
Reflecting a pattern in Tina Fey's scripting, the lonely Mary finds friendship with others like her at school. Culkin is the cherubic Roland, Hilary Faye's paraplegic brother, Eva Amurri is a chain-smoking sole Jewish student, Cassandra and Fugit is Patrick, a paster's son just back from a South American mission and the World Skateboarding Tour for Christianity.
"Saved!" builds to the often seen climax at the prom with Patrick getting more intimate with our troubled Mary, soon to be an unwed mother. It turns into a rather foreboding After-School Special with Hilary Faye getting her comeuppance on the big night.
Though Dannelly cheats a bit by failing to give texture to those immersed in their faith, there are some amusing moments like a rap greeting to pupils by a school pastor (Martin Donovan of Insomnia). Arguably the best is a line mentioned when a wholesome girl enters Planned Parenthood "she's planting a pipe bomb?"
Ultimately, what starts out observing the impact of religion in education in our society loses its appeal, becoming less shaded and more agnostic than it should given relationships like Mary and Patrick's that are never quite redeemed.