Writing about The Pregnancy Pact t’other day reminded me that I had a copy of Saved! (2004) in my stack, waiting to be watched.
For those who don’t know, this teen-centric satire stars Jena Malone as ‘Mary Cummings’, a “born again” girl attending a Christian high school who is forced to question her faith when her boyfriend ‘Dean’ (Chad Faust) reveals that he’s Gay. After a slight drowning mishap in the swimming pool, Mary has a vision in which Jesus tells her she must do everything she can to help Dean in this difficult time… which she (mis)interprets as a green light to have sex with him, in an effort to “cure” his homosexuality. This cunning plan is quickly undercut when Dean’s parents discover a gay porn mag under his mattress, and dispatch him to Mercy House, a Christian treatment centre. Shudder. The ensuing scandal is enough to estrange Mary from her best-friend ‘Hilary Faye’ (Mandy Moore), the school’s sanctimonious Queen Bee, and leader of a girl group called the “Christian Jewels”, who perform uplifting songs during school assemblies, and train to defend their chastity with high-powered firearms! Unable to turn to her ditsy designer mother (Mary-Louise Parker) or dogmatic-but-funky principal (Martin Donovan) for guidance, she drifts into the orbit of the school’s token Jew, ‘Cassandra Edelstein’ (Eva Amurri), who is pursuing a tentative flirtation with Hilary Faye’s paraplegic brother, ‘Roland’ (Macaulay Culkin). Mary’s own love interest arrives in the form of the principal’s toothsome son, ‘Patrick’ (Patrick Fugit), a skateboarding missionary who has just returned from South America. Oh, and while we’re naming names, Hilary’s fawning flunkies are played by Elizabeth Thai and Heather Matarazzo.
I must admit, I didn’t recognise Malone from her appearance in Pride and Prejudice, but she carries the movie with remarkable ease, and makes for a very engaging and sympathetic heroine, even when her character’s behaviour and opinions err towards the erratic. Moore gives an equally strong performance as Mary’s well-meaning-but-misguided nemesis, embodying an archetype that seems uniquely American to me: a beautiful blonde evangelist, with a bible in one hand and a smoking gun in the other! Parker does a remarkable job with her supporting role, packing her scant scenes here with maximum adorability. Amurri seems to be having a lot of fun as the rebellious bad-girl with a hidden heart of gold, and her romantic scenes with Culkin are very sweet… plus, as noted countless times on the commentaries, she is an extraordinarily beautiful young woman. Meanwhile, Matarazzo almost steals the movie with her bizarre outbursts.
I don’t know what the extras are like on the R2 edition, but I managed to score a 2nd-hand copy of the R1 edition, which features two separate commentary tracks… the first with co-writer/director Brian Dannelly, co-writer Michael Urban, and producer Sandy Stern, and the second with Malone and Moore. Everyone seems very proud of the finished product, but Dannelly keeps defensively pointing out that the film is intended to be a satirical comedy, whenever the characters say or do something a little outrageous… and both camps are quick to defend the final act, which was apparently attracting some negative feedback at the time, although they never really explain who was criticising it or what the issue was (the tracks were recorded before the movie had even been released, so maybe it was a test audience thing?). Personally, I don’t mind it getting a little soppy at the end… it’s pretty obvious from listening to the commentary that both writers are still believers, and that they wanted to have a happy ending where everyone learns and loves and coos over a newborn baby. In their hands, this movie was never going to be as biting or as sacrilegious as some viewers might have preferred… but as a sappy romantic myself, I’m cool with that. I can also understand why, from a dramatic/didactic perspective, they had Dean drive a van full of Mercy House escapees to attend the school prom, but I’m not sure it really packs as much of a righteous emotional punch as it could have. I mean, I’m all in favour of same-sex couples attending their school dances together, but Dean hadn’t been a student there for almost a year, and we have no idea who the other kids actually are… so aren’t they just trespassing? Wouldn’t the principal have a legal obligation to forbid them entry… especially since they rock up in a stolen vehicle! As a writer, I tend to crowbar in a lot of speechifying myself, so I’m not in any position to judge, and I appreciate the sentiments which were being expressed in that exchange… but story-wise it seemed a bit too contrived. Overall though, a very funny and thoughtful flick.