In the 'American Eagle Christian High School' the leader of the pack is Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore), a devoted young woman who expresses her faith in song with her singing group the Christian Jewels. She filters everything in life through her faith, not necessarily a bad thing but as with anything aspect of life without balance, can lead to a lack of control. One member of the in Christian crowd, Mary (Jenna Malone) soon finds a real test of her faith when her boyfriend Dean (Chad Faust) announces that he is gay. Mary has a bump to the head induced "vision" that Jesus wants her to sacrifice her precious virginity in order to affect the "degayification" of the now doomed Dean. Of course, Mary is certain that Jesus will take into account her noble purpose and restore her to a chase and pristine state. Unfortunately, Mary is soon looking down at the dreaded blue strip on a home pregnancy test. While Dean is shipped off to a reorientation center Mary is now ostracized by her former best friends. Meanwhile, the one Jewish girl around, Cassandra (Eva Amurri) forms a friendship with Hilary's wheelchair bound and cynical brother Roland (Macaulay Culkin). There are enough inter-relationships here for several films. When Hilary turns against Mary as a result of her changed biological status one of the truly memorable moments of the film occurs, during a heated argument Hillary tosses a Bible at Mary's back while shouting "I'm full of the love of Christ". This instant crystalized Hilary's hypocrisy in such an efficient and concise manner that it impact is unforgettable.
Usually, for a satire to work it has to be tightly focused. Here, however, there is a bit too much of a crowd on the scene. The many ancillary characters tend to obfuscate the plot. The film tries to be a combination of Mean Girls and the Breakfast Club but ultimately ends up just a bit too over the top. The focus here is venom over humor. While the film is an important work for what it is attempting to do it could have been tighter in structure and achieved more than it musters here. Any group that embraces extremes is subject to satirical treatment but that parody should be without malice and done in a good nature format in order to garner a wider audience. Here the girls are so extreme that the subtler points are often lost. The extremism also leaves the audience without a point of reference required to identify on an emotional level with the characters. Despite the flaws I still found this to be an enjoyable film, carried to a large part by the enthusiasm of a talented cast.
I have been a fan of young Jenna Malone for most of her career. With films like 'Donnie Darko', 'Bastard out of Carolina', 'Cheaters' and most recently a featured role in one of the most successful franchises to come from young adventure literature,' The Hunger Games', it is obvious that she is continuing to successfully expand the range of her acting abilities. The intensity she has exhibited in other performances was subdued in this role as a result of how her character was written. In several scenes Ms. Malone was overwhelmed by others in the cast. Of course this is a perfect way of presenting her character, Mary, she has been inundated with a number of serious situations that are beyond her experience therefore leaving her ill equipped to process how to proceed. It also serves to create an ideal contrast with the intensity of self-importance that is the embodiment of
Mandy Moore is in the midst of a rare thing, a pop singer that is growing as an actress. Initially she took on more sympathetic, softer roles but here she rips into the zealous venom of Hilary. She has a natural comic timing and to her credit is willing to take on darker roles like this. Macaulay Culkin is, of course, best known for Home Alone. He also is taking on roles like this that showcase a broader acting ability helping him to make a comeback at his young age and show he has lasting power in film. A special nod of appreciation to the fine actress Heather Matarazzo, I first noticed her in the definitively unconventional teen flick 'Welcome to the Dollhouse'. Here Ms., Matarazzo plays the classic high school geek to perfection. Her experience in independent movies has given her the experience to infuse what is typically a one-dimensional archetype with nuances that makes her charter interesting and capable of contributing to the overall success of the story. Overall the cast creates an ensemble that manifests a synergetic chemistry. This is a film that is carried by the cast and it is their performances that provide the audience with a deliciously dark comedy with a sharp satiric edge that slices into some of the most highly debated issues currently dominating the sociopolitical scene.
This is the freshman feature for writer/director Brian Dannelly. While most of the flaws of the film are in presentation I have to admit he has an eye for pacing a flick. The movie has a natural, organic flow that sweeps the audience along for the ride. Although the many sub plots often cloud the message the film is above others of the genre. The individual scenes are well composed and expertly lit. The message of intolerance is not lost here. After all Jesus did reach out for the misfits first. It appears that Dannelly had so many ideas to bring this point out that he just tried to fit it all in one film. It might have been a bit better off if he created his own little universe here, like the one manufactured in early Kevin Smith films, and make a few films out of the subject matter. This release is part of an incentive undertaken by Olive Films to remaster fan favorites in high definition. There is a substantial improvement in the color palate and contrast which provides a far more robust viewing experience. It is now possible to note gradations in the lighting and use of camera angles and how they reinforce the overall feel and emotional impact of the narrative.
This indeed is hinting at the darker directions religion can take, but in a fizzy film. When it comes down to it, Saved wants to be a funny and sweet teen movie; it doesn't want to address the the darkest corners of its subject. The friend I saw this with had a sort of cathartic experience. All I came away from it with was the lasting impression of Pastor Skip, certainly far, far away from the darkest or nastiest evocation of Evangelical leadership, but perhaps a more cutting example for not being that dark, heavy character. It is as if he and what he represents is too insubstantial to merit deeper examination. He is the avatar of the self-parody that is the modern evangelical movement, an increasingly insular world ever reducing itself to the ridiculous.