Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Jun 01, 2004 8:14 pm 
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Saved! is another disappointing entry in the high school satire genre like its immediate predecessor, Mean Girls. Set in a Born Again Christian high school, Saved! starts out with a cast of characters that might work – the unctuously “with it” school principal, Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan) who spins cartwheels on stage at the opening assembly and raps about being “down with” the Lord; his cute son Patrick (Patrick Fugit, later to pose as Jesus on the cross in a gold lamé loincloth), who’s just back from South American “missionary work” with his skateboard and better hair than the other boys; a (mildly) cynical handicapped boy, Roland (Macauley Culkin, not as outrageous or as good as he was in Party Monster); and Cassandra (Eva Amurri), the sole Jewish girl at the school and the only real Mean Girl in the bunch. She actually smokes and swears, and she and Roland get in a few good quips.

As always of course there’s got to be the queen bee of the alpha females, and she’s the ubiquitous and very grating Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore) a vicious blend of righteousness and excessive makeup who gets her nose into everything and comes out with nothing but a rage attack and a huge pimple on the chin. She’s so monotonous you know she’s going to get her comeuppance and be Reformed.

But the plot’s pivot point, which arrives early on, involves adorable waif Mary (Jena Malone), who gets pregnant with her gay boyfriend to “cure” him. That opening event dominates the plot and ultimately brings it down – how can you make fun of pregnancy? -- with a prom dance finale that’s an orgy of acceptance in which Patrick dates the visibly pregnant Mary, Hilary Faye is forgiven for her smug manipulations, and Dean (Chad Faust), Mary’s gay boyfriend, arrives with his gay roommate from the Christian brainwashing center as his date, and after a scuffle with Pastor Skip, they’re allowed in. Hilary Faye’s rebellion focuses upon ramming her car into a giant cardboard Jesus and knocking its head off. The kids promise to put it back together. Because of this curdling of the comedy Saved! has been called this year’s Pumpkin, but Pumpkin was so weird that even when it turned sweet it still creeped you out. Saved! just sneaks away with its Christian slogans intact.

Saved! delivers too much nauseating Christian cant without satirical comment. The writing isn’t smart or bold enough. The director and writer, who themselves went to Christian school and camp, say their characters are like real life but toned down: "If anything, we underplayed it”. Why "underplay" things in a satire? Like Mean Girls, Saved! invites comparison with the standard for wicked American teenage comedy set by Heathers and Election, and it doesn’t measure up. The teenage rebellion that leads to Heathers’ murders and explosions or Over the Edge’s school on fire, fizzles out in a few outbursts at the prom. There are some born again Christians who're already glad this movie was made -- and that's a sin.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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