Instead of typically explaining what I would like to achieve on my blog (and therefore letting it lapse for long periods of time), I figured I’d just right into it and let God sort it out. I’ve been sort of loosely maintaining this idea that I would watch one film a week, no other stipulations other than that, just to kind of re-expand my love of the form and generally unwind after a long week at work. Since my prime movie-watching time is the weekend, I figured that summarizing on Monday what I had watched the days prior would be a good way to also start my new life as a general feminist media critic versus solely focusing on video games.
This week’s pick was not intentional – I was looking to watch Iron Man 3 or Captain America: The Winter Soldier in anticipation of seeing Age of Ultron with my boyfriend this week but sadly neither film was available for rent on Amazon Prime video. So when Saved! turned up randomly on my Netflix recommendations, I figured that maybe this would be a good time for a fun re-watch. I’ve seen this movie at least two times before but the last time was at least 6-10 years ago. Would it hold up? Many of the teen movies I was obsessed with in the late 90’s/early 00s renaissance for that genre still hold up relatively well these days, even if none of the characters have smartphones or social media. I didn’t back then, so they still feel real to me.
Saved! is somewhere between earnest teen drama and tautly written satire of Christianity written for adults. It’s obviously very accessible though, speaking as someone who has no access to what really goes on in “born again” and “charismatic” Christian circles. The story follows the protagonist Mary (Jenna Malone), as she struggles to deal with a crisis of faith, brought to her by an accidental pregnancy with her actually-gay boyfriend. The movie moves briskly through the 10 months leading up to her giving birth, and introduces a really hilarious cast of characters that attend the American Eagle Christian school with Mary: her ex-best friend Hillary Faye (Mandi Moore), Hillary’s disabled brother Roland (Macaulay Culkin), as well as the school’s single Jewish student and trouble-maker, Cassandra (Eva Amurri). Adults are conspicuously out of the picture, which is pretty true to form in most teen films, other than Mary’s absentee Christian Decorator of the Year award-winning mom Lillian (Mary Louise-Parker) and the overly-hip Pastor Skip (who is father to Mary’s crush, Patrick, played by Patrick Fugit.)
What really kept this movie from being too bogged down by what could have been sneering disgust or overt familiarity with the topic was mostly Mary’s struggles with reconciling that her own actions, not Jesus’, are really at work here. Losing your faith is a pretty earnest moment for a lot of people, especially young people, and struggling with teen pregnancy on top of that is no easy task. The jokes are kept pretty blasphemous but not exceptionally cruel. The world as it is seen through Mary’s eyes is obviously to be mocked but not in a way that felt too distanced. I got a sense that the script was written with a lot of care. That being said, the movie as a whole is extremely wry whether it’s Hillary Faye’s intense, militant religiousness wrapped around a fairly offensive center or Pastor Skip and Lillian’s obvious affection for eachother despite Skip still being married to Patrick’s missionary mom. The whole movie serves to very delicately show that adhering to the rules does no one good when so much of the human existence is that we’re all flawed in some way. It also played heavily on the idea that the facades that we want others to buy into aren’t truly who we are deep down inside, where only God (or whomever), can see us.
Despite the fact that the movie takes place over a decent length of time (most of Mary’s entire senior year at American Eagle), they did a lot of very subtle jumps in time, seamlessly cutting from one holiday to the next, using that as a way to vignette a particular moment in Mary’s arc and on-going attempts to hide the pregnancy from most people around her. It also weaves in quite a few scenes that give us a greater understanding of many of the people in Mary’s orbit, such as her mom’s loneliness, Roland and Cassandra’s burgeoning relationship and Hillary Faye’s more desperate attempts to “fix” Mary and her friends. Subtle things like Tia’s (Heather Matarazzo) eventual transformation into Hillary Faye Jr. play out in the background, much like the holiday decorations strewn around the school, and underscore what happens at the pique of the film’s tension – the end-of-year prom.
Prom scenes are often the hyper-focus of many teen films and so it’s hard not to fall into cliches. They work as a place where power relationships are thrown into stark relief and the real magic of a film’s climax happens. Memorable prom scenes like Jawbreaker and Carrie are rife with stylistic conventions that seem to occur in every film going forward. Saved! keeps it a little less dramatic but twists everything around with it’s own flair; Hillary Faye is revealed as the actual villain who orchestrated a frame job of Mary and Cassandra (which Mean Girls feels reminiscent of), Dean shows up with his boyfriend from Mercy House (the Christian deprogramming school, alluding to something that wouldn’t become a bigger story until years later), and all of this is punctuated by one falling Jesus statue and Mary eventually giving birth.
The movie is sweet without being too schmaltzy, referential without being trite (I got shades of Mermaids here) and embraces the extremely dry humor without being alienating about the subject matter in a way that I found really refreshing. It’s a teen movie with a lot of outside elements and still stays pretty true-to-form. If you’re looking for good satire with a decent story, this is a great place to look.