Release Date:  May 28, 2004
Rating:  PG-13 (for strong thematic issues involving teens - sexual content, pregnancy, smoking and language)
Genre:  Comedy/Drama
Run Time: 92 minutes
Director:  Brian Dannelly
Actors:  Jena Malone, Mandy Moore, Macauley Culkin, Patrick Fugit, Chad Faust, Heather Matarazzo, Eva Amurri, Martin Donovan and Mary-Louise Parker

Writer and director Brian Dannelly goes for the jugular with “Saved!” He ridicules worship, prayer, contemporary Christian music and teen rallies, portraying participants as deluded weirdos chasing a feel-good experience. He portrays prayer meetings as gossip sessions and church leaders as hypocrites. He mocks sexual virtue. Dannelly makes fun of attempts to de-secularize Christmas (“Santa = Satan”). He derides the possibility of God’s mercy. He even ridicules the crucifixion, with a close-up on the gold lame-covered genitals of the teen that plays Jesus in a school production.

“Now that’s what I call being hung on the cross!” a cheeky girl comments.

Actress Mandy Moore appeared on “Good Morning America” this week, where she insisted that “Saved!” shows “both the good and the bad” about Christianity while revealing what “true faith” really is. She dismissed criticism, saying, “The people who are criticizing this film haven’t seen it.”

Well, I’ve seen it, and I disagree – strongly. Rather than a humorous satire that exposes hypocrisy within a well-intentioned or otherwise godly community, “Saved!” (with a cross over the exclamation point) is a relentless assault that maligns anyone and everyone associated with the Christian faith – especially those who disagree with the gay lifestyle.

Seventeen-year-old Mary (Jena Malone) has been “born again” her whole life. “Accepting Jesus into your life is a big decision,” she explains. “Especially for a three-year-old.” This naïveté sets the tone for the movie, which focuses on a group of teenage Christians who live, eat, sleep and breathe everything Christian. They go to a Christian high school and participate in all sorts of exclusive, cliquish Christian groups. The leader of a worship band, Hilary Faye (Moore) is every teenager’s worst nightmare. She gossips, slanders and uses her faith as self-righteous justification to manipulate everyone. Her mission in life is to “evangelize” those who don’t know Jesus. Kidnapping and brainwashing are acceptable means – as are throwing Bibles.

When Mary’s boyfriend, Dean (Chad Faust), tells her that he is gay, Mary is shocked. A construction worker, momentarily transformed into a vision of the crucified Christ wearing a crown of thorns, bids Mary to help Dean. Hilary Faye unknowingly gives Mary the solution – while the two practice shooting at the gun range – by informing her that God can and will restore a girl’s “spiritual and emotional virginity.” Believing she is doing God’s will, Mary seduces Dean and becomes pregnant. But, after Dean’s parents discover homosexual pornography under his bed, they send him off to Mercy House, a mysterious, cult-like place “where they deal with everything from drug addiction to de-gay-ification to unwed mothers.”

Mary conceals her pregnancy with the help of a rebellious Jewish student (Eva Amurri) and Hilary Faye’s unbelieving brother (Macauley Culkin), who is confined to a wheelchair. Then the pastor’s hunky son (Patrick Fugit) falls for Mary, making Hilary Faye jealous. Meanwhile, Mary’s mother and her pastor are committing adultery.

I enjoy jokes about the church, fellow Christians and the quirkiness that inhabits the various subcultures of evangelicalism. We’re a diverse group, and we certainly have our idiosyncrasies. Moreover, we’re not immune to sin or dysfunction, and humor is a great way of pointing out truth in a palatable way. But humor rings truest when it comes from someone who loves what it chides. And that’s the problem with “Saved!, which clearly stems from a lot of hurt – hurt that has somehow transformed into spiteful rage.

Characters smoke, drink, have sex, swear to God and take the Lord’s name in vain – while wearing large, gaudy crosses. Several curse, including the f- word. They mock homosexuals. They are racist – and ridiculous. Someone sees “a vision of Jesus” in a fish tank. Christian women paint crosses on their toenails while watching Christian television game shows. All the Christians are evil; all the non-Christians are kind, good and logical. The pastor says, regarding his marriage problems, “Divorce isn’t part of God’s plan.” His unbelieving son retorts, “Well, maybe you need a new plan.”

According to Dannelly, that “new plan” involves an entirely new set of values – and a new definition of family. Mary’s enlightened voiceover at the end of the film is complimented by a photo of this “new family model,” which consists of a working single mother in touch with her sexuality; her married lover; an unwed teenage mother; her heterosexual boyfriend; the baby’s teenage dad – who is kind, loving and positively thrilled to be a father, even though he’s only 17 and gay – and his teenage homosexual lover. And the “true faith” that Moore extols? An impersonal, inanimate God who encourages us to redefine virtue according to our sexual whims. As Mary says, “God exists. You just have to feel it.”

The only thing I feel is dismay that Christ’s followers are so hated and ridiculed. As Christians, we walk a fine line between presence (living out the gospel) and proclamation (sharing the message). Our proclamation must always be done in love, which we can and do forget. So, even as we duck from drive-by shootings like “Saved!,” we might nevertheless use the opportunity to examine how we communicate our faith to a disbelieving, skeptical and hostile world.

OBJECTIONABLE CONTENT:
"Saved!"

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