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Religious parody thrives on heart, humor

Molly Griffin | Monday, December 6, 2004

Any movie that deals with religion tends to either fall towards the passionate and assertive, such as Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” or towards the critical and sarcastic, like Kevin Smith’s “Dogma.” It is difficult to find a film that can deal with religion in a thoughtful, humorous way that critiques things in a respectful manner, but “Saved!” manages to be both a dead-on parody while still showing the proper reverence for the difficult topic that it deals with.Mary (Jena Malone, “Donnie Darko”) is a devoutly Christian teenager who attends American Eagle Christian High School and, after mistakenly seeing a vision of Jesus, gets pregnant while trying to ‘save’ her boyfriend after he confesses that he is gay. Her faith is shaken, and she begins to lose common ground with her ecstatically devoted friends, including the queen bee of the ‘Christian Jewels,’ Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore, “A Walk to Remember”). She befriends the school’s outcasts, Cassandra (Eva Amurri), the only Jewish student at the school, and Hilary Faye’s wheelchair-bound brother, Roland (Macaulay Culkin.) Along with her pregnancy, Mary’s life is complicated by her growing relationship with Patrick (Almost Famous’ Patrick Fugit) and her mother’s inability to see past her own problems. Like all teen movies, the film climaxes at the prom, but it does manage to put its own unique twist on a standard situation. The performances given in “Saved!” by the talented young cast allow the movie’s difficult subject matter to work. Mandy Moore is great as the holier-than-thou Hilary Faye, and Amurri and Culkin do great work as the school’s outcasts. Jena Malone’s Mary is rather dull until the later parts of the film, but the more vivid performances given by those around her make up for this. Some great work is done by actors in smaller roles, like Heather Matarazzo’s (“The Princess Diaries”) performance as Tia, the girl torn between popularity and her nerdish tendencies. The “Saved!” DVD includes two audio commentaries, one from Moore and Malone and one from director Brian Dannelly, co-writer Michael Urban and producer Sandy Stern. The two actresses talk about what it was like making the film, and the genuine connection the duo seems to have makes watching more interesting. The second commentary reveals how the film was made, as well as provides some in-depth discussion about the philosophy behind the movie. Also included on the DVD is a featurette entitled, “Heaven Help Us,” which has interviews with the principle characters, and “Saved Revelations,” which reveals information about things cut from the movie and allows viewers to watch cut scenes, including an alternate ending. The film’s video quality is good, particularly in night scenes, but some colors, like bright red, shimmer. The movie’s soundtrack isn’t particularly loud or complicated, so the sound quality wasn’t a particularly noticeable feature when watching the film. “Saved!” skewers the religious hypocrisy of those so blinded by their faith that they lose sight of the ideas of tolerance and acceptance. While it sometimes tries a little too hard to get its message across, it really is a great parody that points out the flaws of its subject while highlighting its successes at the same time.