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2004 - PG-13 - 100 Mins.
Director: Brian Dannelly
Producer: Michael Stipe
Written By: Brian Dannelly, Michael Urban
Starring: Jena Malone, Patrick Fugit, Martin Donovan, Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin, Chad Faust, Eva Amurri, Heather Matarazzo, Mary-Louise Parker
Review by: Harrison Cheung

The girls get pushy.
If Avril Lavigne is the “anti-Britney,” then Jena Malone is the anti-Hilary Duff. With a track record for choosing oddball roles – from cult favorites ‘Life as a House’ to ‘Donnie Darko’ to this year’s ‘United States of Leland,’ Malone finally takes center stage in the enormously funny and intelligent ‘Saved.’

Written and directed by newcomer, Brian Dannelly, Malone stars as high school senior, Mary, who is struggling to come to terms with her life in a Christian high school. She is a member of the most popular clique, the Christian Angels, headed by the hyper-perky Mandy Moore (whose character is named… Hilary Faye – Hilary Duff meets Tammy Faye? ) who is determined to save souls, whether they like it or not. The Christian Angels are an elite cheer leading squad, running school events and, in their spare time, demonstrating against abortion clinics and practicing gun skills to fend off rapists (at the "Eye for an Eye" gun range, no less).

When Mary’s boyfriend confesses that he’s gay, she tries to save him with sex. The consequences are both funny and tragic as her boyfriend’s parents banish him to an institute for “de-gayification” and she tries to hide her pregnancy for the rest of the school year.

The cast of ‘Saved’ reads like an indie film who’s who: Martin Donovan as the preacher/principal, Patrick Fugit, Macaulay Culkin, Heather Matarazzo, Mary-Louise Parker, and Eva Amurri who almost steals the film with the juicy role of Cassandra, the lone Jewish student at Christian high. (When Cassandra, apparently overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit, begins speaking in tongues… that’s worth the price of admission alone!) It’s a great and appealing cast where each character is a fascinating facet of the school or its Christian community.

But it's Malone's performance that is central, as she transforms from cheer leader fembot, happy with the face value of her high school, to troubled teen, dealing with real life issues that aren't condoned or supported with any compassion. Not surprisingly, her portrayal is reminiscent of Winona Ryder's star-making turn in 'Heathers'.

‘Saved’ is like ‘Heathers’ meets ‘Mean Girls’ with plenty of religious and philosophical dialogue. Is the film anti-Christian? Absolutely not. There is a decided poke at the new pop-commercialized Christianity with rap and pop songs that sound similar to secular music (even Jessica Simpson climbed up the music ladder first in the Christian music world) but the main message of ‘Saved’ is one of tolerance. Patrick Fugit delivers a wonderful line in the film that sums up the theme quite nicely: “God gave us the power of free will.” And with that line, Malone’s Mary sudden sees the jingoist peer pressure, which powers the social structures of her school. Even with the religious setting, ‘Saved’ is firmly playing within long treasured high school angst dramedies by questioning conformity. “Are you hip with the G.O.D.?” the principal asks at a pep rally. It's as clumsy and as patronizing as the principal in 'Heathers' launching the BIONIC program (Believe it or Not, I care!).

‘Saved’ is funny, rebellious, and intelligent. Those on the Christian Right may take umbrage, but the film preaches love and tolerance in a slightly warped way. The film’s ending is a little too ambitious, trying to tie up its loose ends in a neat conclusion, but overall ‘Saved’ is a wonderful teen comedy, a refreshing thought-provoking film that rises above the current flood of Snow-White-Princess-wannabee movies where a teenaged girl’s only problem seems to be landing Prince Charming and deciding what color lip gloss to wear. And any single Jena Malone performance is more interesting and real to watch than that of some bland Barbie doll on parade.

Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

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