- Jul 6, 2003
Running Time: 92 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16x9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1)
Subtitles: English, French, and Spanish
Audio: English – Dolby Digital 5.1
October 5th, 2004
Saved!, the first feature-length film from writer/director Brian Dannely (with a little help from fellow writer Michael Urban), is an unusually effective conglomeration of religion, satire, and romantic comedy. Incidentally, if anyone was wondering, Mr. Dannelly’s first film was a short entitled He Bop.
In terms of Saved!’s story, the film is centered on a group of hardcore born-again Christians of high-school age, and it takes viewers on a humorous journey through the mindset of their particular culture in a variety of different ways (from sharp-witted to silly). This journey is set in motion when Mary (Jena Malone) has her seemingly normal life turned upside down by the sudden and startling revelation that her boyfriend, the “perfect Christian” Dean (Chad Faust), believes himself to be gay.
Confused and angered by this shocking turn of events, Mary believes that she has been gifted with a vision from Jesus, who basically says “Dean needs your help, so do all you can.” From this vision, Mary incorrectly deduces that the way she can help “save” Dean is to have sex with him, so he will put aside his “Honcho” magazines and forget about homosexuality.
Hoping to save Dean and salvage their relationship, Mary gets busy with him, and since she has the blessing of the Lord (or so she thinks), things have to work out, right? Wrong!!! Unfortunately, despite her selfless effort to help her man, Mary’s actions fail to get Dean to change his lifestyle choice. In fact, not only does Mary’s tryst with Dean not change his opinion on his sexual orientation, but she also becomes pregnant! Subsequently, Mary’s struggle to come to terms with this difficult situation, the dynamic actions and reactions of those involved in her life, and her struggle to understand some of the apparent hypocrisy of her religious beliefs serve as the foundation the rest of the story is built upon.
As the film continues, Dean’s parents ship him off to the Mercy House treatment facility that promises to “cure” the young man’s homosexuality. This promise also goes unfulfilled, as the staff at Mercy House bunk Dean up with another youth that is questioning his true sexual orientation. I am sure you can guess what happens from there…
In the interim, Mary has to contend with her unbelievably self-absorbed mother Lillian (Mary Louise Parker), the perceptions of her schoolmates, and the drastic change in her role within the Christian society she had become so accustomed to. The most distressing thing for Mary, however, seems to be the fact that her changing attitude has created a rift between her and her pals in the Christian Jewels musical group. This is especially true of the Jewels’ pushy, self-righteous “leader”, Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore), who goes all out trying to “save” Mary (and everyone else). After a while, these things begin to weigh heavily on Mary’s psyche, and cause her to question her religion’s standpoint on homosexuals, sex in general, and many of the other principles her faith had been built around.
Fortunately, things begin to turn around for Mary when she befriends a rebellious girl of Jewish faith named Cassandra (Eva Amurri), who landed in American Eagle Christian School after getting expelled from her previous learning institution. Indeed, Cassandra, a rumored stripper who is the polar opposite of the ultra-conservative students at American Eagle, helps Mary deal with her difficult situation and uncertain future. On a side note, I think Cassandra has a lot of the best dialogue, including some great observations on some of the more hypocritical aspects of her schoolmates’ belief systems.
In another interesting development, the cantankerous Cassandra takes a liking to the straight-laced Hilary Faye’s brother, Roland (Macaulay Culkin), who is confined to a wheelchair – much to Hilary’s chagrin, of course. As the relationship between the two blossoms, Cassandra begins to help Roland express his own feelings and become self-reliant, which he does by gradually freeing himself from the overbearing “assistance” offered by his sister, who loves controlling the lives of all those close to her. As Roland comes into his own, his unique outlook on life, and genuine appreciation of who and what Cassandra is, builds what is arguably the most interesting and memorable relationship in the entire film. Cassandra puts this in more simple terms, saying “He gets me, and I get him.”
Now getting back to our imperiled heroine, we find that Mary is having difficulty dealing with the interest being shown in her by the handsome Patrick (Patrick Fugit), who also happens to be the son of American Eagle’s principal, Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan). While Mary yearns to reciprocate Patrick’s attraction to her, she is hesitant to get hurt again, and seems almost unwilling to believe that Patrick would want to be with her once he finds out she is with child.
How will all of this be resolved? Can Mary overcome her fears and tell Patrick how she feels? Will she tell Dean about the child he is about to have? Will the baby bring Mary and her mother closer together? Sorry, my lips are sealed….
While I am not going to reveal any more plot details, I do want to discuss this film a little more, as I really liked the clever methods Brian Dannelly and Michael Urban’s screenplay employs to chide organized religion. Take Pastor Skip, for example, who tries to relate to his student body better by using ridiculous sounding street lingo, like “Are you down with G-O-D?” and “Let’s kick it Jesus style”, and in the ultimate act of hypocrisy, engages in an extra-marital relationship with Lillian despite preaching the wrongs of such relationships.
As I alluded to earlier, the writers also take some subtle (and not so subtle) swipes at the self-righteousness of the zealots among the Christian youth. This is especially evident in the scene where Hilary Faye commits a very serious sin to rid the school of those she deems to be a bad influence.
Through these elements of the story, Saved! raises serious questions about the nature of “true” spirituality, with the cavalcade of diverse characters dealing with some of the more pressing issues currently facing devout born-again Christians, like the use of religious doctrines to create an artificial barrier against experiences that have been proscribed, and living up to “what Jesus would want” in any given situation.
Now on the whole, the material the cast is given to work with is good, but I think it is the energy of the cast that really makes this film go! Surprisingly, considering their youth and relatively limited feature experience, the performers exhibit a high degree of professionalism and charm. To begin with, Jena Malone (as Mary) skillfully handles a very deep and diverse role. Early on, Malone displays a genuine naivety and innocence, but also gives the character a quiet intelligence and introspection that goes a long way towards establishing credibility in the latter stages of the film, when she questions certain aspects of her faith.
Similarly, in Cassandra, Eva Amurri creates a wonderfully vibrant and complex young woman, who is both sensitive and powerful. Her Cassandra is adventurous and free-spirited, but she also has a softer side, which is illustrated in how she locks horns with Hilary Faye, but shows great affection for Mary and Roland. In my opinion, Ms. Amurri was absolutely delightful as Cassandra, and after seeing how much depth and dimension she gave to this character, I look forward to her future projects!
Macaulay Culkin, an actor who has struggled to overcome both a troubled personal life and being the “Home Alone kid”, also turns in a very professional, refined performance in Saved!. The character Roland is physically disabled, but as Roland’s self-confidence grows, with a little encouragement from Cassandra, Culkin handles the transition in his mental state in a very genuine and believable fashion. He also works wonderfully with Eva Amurri. It is nice to see him making a comeback!
Martin Donovan and Mary Louise Parker also make the most of their limited screen time, as Pastor Skip and Mary's mother, Lillian - whose secret (and amorous) relationship is yet another variation on Dannelly’s theme that “true believers” are often just as flawed and hypocritical as the rest of us.
In my honest opinion, the only character that was a little too over-the-top was Hilary Faye. To be sure, Mandy Moore’s rendition of an egocentric, hypocritical “leader” contains some moments that show what a talent she is, but more often than not, Hilary comes across as an exaggeration rather than a real person. Granted, this probably has a lot more to do with the way her character was written than anything else, but it slightly diminishes the film nonetheless.
All in all, however, given that this is Brian Dannely’s first feature, Saved! is not a bad effort by any means. Indeed, in my opinion, it shows that he has real promise as a storyteller. To be sure, the bold attempt to commingle elements of both romantic comedy and satire, which is a difficult task for even accomplished directors, is not completely successful. Even so, I think that the film has very few flaws, and offers up more than its fair share of laughs. More importantly, Saved! should give viewers a lot to think about, especially as it relates to religion and faith, which is a lot more than most teen-oriented romantic comedies/satires can say!
SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
Saved! was made for only $5 million, but MGM’s anamorphically enhanced widescreen (1.85:1) transfer sure looks as if it cost a lot more! First of all, colors are reproduced very well, as bold, bright primaries and pleasant flesh tones are presented without noise or bleeding. The film’s whites are also very clean, with a minimal amount of visible noise.
Black level remains rock solid throughout as well, so sequences in darker environments (like Hilary Faye’s bedroom) feature plenty of detail. While on the subject of detail, I was very impressed with the level of clarity and precision with which the source material is rendered. Just take a look at how easy it is to make out Jena Malone’s freckles, or how individual strands of hair are visible on the characters. This also applies to the characters’ clothing, which exhibits an outstanding sense of texture.
All in all, this is a very lovely, film-like transfer, free from irritating digital compression artifacts, and almost completely free from edge enhancement. There are certain sequences in this film where I almost felt as if I could walk right into the frame. Very nice!!!
WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
Although no audio accommodations have been made for non-English speakers, the English 5.1 channel Dolby Digital soundtrack for Saved! does a very respectable job of reproducing the film’s source material. Of course, like any teen comedy worth its salt, dialogue takes center stage, and in this transfer, the actor’s voices ring through loud and clear, sans distracting defects of any sort.
Frequency response is also excellent all throughout the audible spectrum, allowing both the ladies’ voices and the punch in the film’s music to ring through nicely. Speaking of punch, the subwoofer is also occasionally put to good use, rocking the house during Pastor Skip’s rally, reinforcing Mandy Moore’s cover of the Beach Boys tune over the opening credits, and adding some impact to the girls’ trip to the shooting range.
All of the music in the film is also spread nicely across the front of the soundstage, which offers a pleasant enough sense of instrument separation. In addition, the rear speakers make their presence known on occasion, although the source material does not demand too much from them. As you might expect, given its genre, Saved! features a fairly front-and-center mix, generally calling upon the rear channels to add some ambience to a scene, or to reinforce the music, but little else.
To sum things up, while Saved!’s audio is not quite as splendid as its visual presentation, it does what it needs to very well.
Audio Commentary #1
One of the two feature-length audio commentaries for Saved! was contributed by actresses Mandy Moore and Jena Malone. Although there are some moments of silliness, there is a lot more insight provided on this track than usual when young actors are involved, and the track is also a fun listen, with very few pauses. Better still, the ladies also reveal some interesting behind-the-scenes stories. Among the highlights were:
--- Discussions about how various scenes in the movie were filmed.
--- Comments on how the ladies personalized their wardrobes, and some of the things that they did to “get into character”.
--- Jena Malone talking about the difficulty of making on-screen romances seem believable, when the actors typically do not know each other very well.
--- Moore and Malone pointing out some of the continuity errors in the film, particularly those involving Jena’s hair. Yeah, I know most of you probably won’t consider this a “highlight” but I always find it fun to try and catch little mistakes!
Audio Commentary #2
The second yack track for Saved!, features director/co-writer Brian Dannelly, producer Sandy Stern, and co-writer Michael Urban, all of whom spill their guts about the process of putting the story to film. While not quite as fun as the other commentary, it still has plenty to offer. You can expect to hear:
--- Plenty of information on both the casting process and ideas that were dropped from the film.
--- The participants discussing the fact that Saved! was shot over only 28 days, and had a budget of only $5 million.
--- A chat about how the filmmakers worked with Mandy Moore to avoid her singing scene seeming like it was inserted simply because she is a pop star.
There is a wealth of additional information provided that makes this commentary a worthwhile listen for fans, but I don’t want to spoil the listening experience. Suffice it to say that of the two commentaries, this one is the more educational, but it is also an entertaining track, as all three participants are easy to listen to and the track moves along at a fairly brisk clip, without any significant pauses.
Over 16 minutes of deleted and extended scenes have been included! The following is a brief description of each:
--- “Alternate Opening”
Mary and Hilary watch a football game being played by some shirtless American Eagle boys, and then touch up the giant statue of Jesus that is featured throughout the film.
--- “Dean’s Excitement”
Mary reveals what she was thinking about while trying to “save” Dean.
--- “Lillian Packs Lunch”
Mary’s caring and attentive mother goes through a lot of trouble to pack her a nice lunch for school.
--- “Down With G.O.D.”
“Down with G.O.D. is an extended scene featuring a little more of Pastor Skip’s hip-hop “flava” as he speaks to his students.
--- “Hilary Faye vs. Cassandra Montage”
In this scene, Hilary opines on how lucky Cassandra is to have her as a friend, Patrick tells the group about his missionary work, and Hilary and company come to the rescue of a drunk Cassandra.
--- “Hilary Faye’s Joy of Christmas”
In this short scene, shown in two versions, Hilary and her pals open some presents and pray for Mary.
--- “Pastor Skip and Patrick on the Couch”
Here, Patrick has a talk with his father about his parents’ failing marriage.
--- “Lillian Wins Award”
In this excised scene, Lillian is rewarded with some hardware for her work as an interior designer.
--- “Pastor Skip and Lillian Eat Out”
Essentially, this scene plays out as the title suggests, although Skip arrives a little late for his dinner date.
--- “Pastor Skip and Lillian In The Closet”
This deleted scene features Skip and Lillian talking about Mary’s delicate condition, and what it means for their own relationship, on the inside of a closet.
--- “Hilary Faye Breaks Down”
“Hilary Faye Breaks Down” is an extension of a scene in the film where Hilary is finally confronted with the real impact that her “good intentions” have on her friends and family.
Approximately two minutes of outtakes are provided for your enjoyment, in four sections. They are:
--- “Hey Bitches”
This one is a short clip where Eva Amurri frightens her fellow castmembers.
--- “Dean’s Secret”
After Dean reveals his secret to Mary, she receives consolation from a friend.
--- “How Mary Spent Her Summer”
During this short sequence, Mary shares some of the activities she did during her summer with her classmates.
--- “Patrick and Roland’s Little Secret”
While Mary is sharing her summer experiences with the class, Patrick and Roland engage in a moment of male bonding.
During these extensions of six scenes from the film, which run a few seconds each, certain characters and situations in the film are fleshed out in greater detail. The clips are entitled:
--- “What’s Behind Roland’s Comic Book?”
--- “What’s Veronica Really Thinking?”
--- “Veronica’s Dirty Little Secret”
--- “What’s Cassandra Really Saying?”
--- “What’s Hilary Faye Really Looking At?”
Heaven Help Us
Running only four minutes, “Heaven Help Us” is a light and fluffy promotional featurette, which chiefly consists of brief interview clips with Brian Dannelly and the principal cast. As the featurette plays out, these folks talk about fairly typical things, like how they felt when they read the script, what their characters are like, and how much fun they had working with the other members of the cast. If it was a little longer and more in depth it might have made for interesting viewing, but as is it offers very little in the way of insight.
This hidden featurette, where producer Michael Stipe (lead singer of R.E.M.) promotes Saved!, can be located by highlighting “Heaven Help Us” on the Special Features menu and pressing right.
The original theatrical trailer for Saved! is included.
The disc kicks off with skippable trailers for the following films:
--- Wicker Park, and Walking Tall, and other the “Other MGM releases section” there are trailers for:
--- Bubba Ho-Tep
--- Touching the Void
--- Barbershop 2: Back In Business
--- Walking Tall
--- Soul Plane
--- Dorm Daze
(on a five-point scale)
Film: :star: :star: :star: :star:
Video: :star: :star: :star: :star: 1/2
Audio: :star: :star: :star: :star:
Extras: :star: :star: :star: :star:
Overall: :star: :star: :star: :star:
THE LAST WORD
Brian Dannelly’s Saved! is a funny, well-acted movie that has more to offer than the typical teen comedy, not to mention having characters that are realized far better. And although Saved! is not a perfect film, the energy of the youthful cast was infectious, and the witty look at how hypocritical some of the world’s “true believers” are made me like it a lot more than some of the other comedies I have seen recently!
Better still, the film looks and sounds almost heavenly on DVD, and there are a wealth of extras for fans to consume, including two solid audio commentaries and a host of deleted/extended scenes. If you are looking for a teen-oriented comedy that is more than just a series of thinly stitched together gross-out gags, one dimensional characters, and an examination of the female form (not that there is anything wrong with those things), head to the church of Brian Dannelly and get Saved!. Recommended!!!