- Feb 8, 2001
- Reaction score
- Real Name
Saved is a problematic film on many levels. I personally enjoyed it and think it is worth seeing, but my recommendations would be much more specific for this film than most. My personal rating would put it at a 3 stars (highly recommended, out of four), but I would recommend it much higher for people like my Mom and sisters, and a little lower (with reservations) for discerning cineastes.
There are many problems with Saved! if you start reflecting on the film. The biggest issue is that Saved! mediates many boundaries and juxtapositions in the film. This results in a very mainstream effort, the film is more likely to appeal to a moderate viewpoint than an extreme conservative or liberal.
Saved! toes the line between classic, pure melodrama and biting social satire. It does a good effect of mostly blending these two genres and using their strengths to enhance one another. However there are conventions from both that distract and weaken the story. Many people might not be able to get by the pure movie land premise—the reason that Mary gets pregnant—it’s the sort of thing you hear in real life, and think, “that’s just crazy enough it might be true” while never really seriously accepting it, but you wonder. Once you get past the silly melodramatic necessities that throw the narrative in motion the film stabilizes and becomes more interesting. In particular the heroes of the story actually treat the material with respect and effort. Jena Malone, in particular turns in a wonderful low key and incredibly believable performance. There are times when the satire goes a bit over the top, and some representations go a little beyond good natured stereotyping into harsh and silly vilification. There are some inconsistencies in character development, but the vast majority of the run time is very solid.
There is a film I think is a great comparison to Saved!--Sweet Home Alabama. Both of these films are unabashedly generic, they’re happy to satisfy conventions and not really challenge the formulas that make them succeed. But both films are able to do this by very good scripts and (almost all) excellent performances where its clear the actors believe in the material in a way most critics will not acknowledge because of the films’ generic complacency. Both films also feature the over the top villainous who seems to think they’re in a different movie and insists on overacting (and having all her cronies overact with her). This is unfortunate in both cases because it abandons any attempt at characterization in favor of exploiting cardboard representations. And it lessens the effectiveness of the protagonists because they don’t have a realistic or believable antagonist. There are also general thematic similarities in the issues facing the protagonists. More importantly, in my mind, is the way both films take on enormously maligned subsections of American culture and treat those cultures with respect. There is a good-natured humor towards the way southern culture or Christian youth culture is portrayed in their respective films. Although both films often use stereotypes as something of a crutch to bridge anemic melodramatic plot transitions, there is none of the derogatory condescension or mean-spirited exploitation (for cheap laughs) I expected given Hollywood’s traditional representations of these cultures.
Another film Saved! could be compared to equally well against would be Barbershop, however since the culture there is protected by the politically correct, critics don’t treat it in the same manner they do something like Sweet Home Alabama. Despite this all three films rely on a certain degree of complacency that leaves them ultimately uninteresting. They all have their messages, but make no mistake, these films do not attempt to rock the boat at all; they merely make you consider, they don’t really make you think. They deliberately don’t take strong positions and instead opt for centrist positions intended to please the most people.
Jena Malone is hands down the best things about Saved! She delivered what will probably be one of my favorite performances of the entire year. For example, there is a scene when she and her mother are dunking ding-dongs in milk and just chatting. Her mother asks her if there’s anything she wants to talk about. In a short two-three second shot Malone manages to evoke a great deal of emotions and responses. It’s deep, layered acting, by no means is it one tinsy bit showy; she doesn’t let you know she’s giving a performance, it’s all in the subtext. My second favorite scene with her was a brief snippet of dialogue after one of the film’s more powerful emotional moments, when Mary lets slip to Cassandra. As Cassandra takes her out of the restroom, she says, “We need to get you out of here.” In a medium shot a tearful Mary looks up (in profile) with a little bit of shock, terror and just a bit of excitement as she says, “are we cutting?” To me that one line captures the entire spirit and soul of Mary; she really is the decent, rule abiding girl. She’s not a hypocritical Pharisee like Hillary Faye. Pregnant or not, she’s still astonished at the possibility of cutting class (and then going through with it). It’s a very short moment and gets a great laugh; on the page I imagine it was a good line, and kudos to Michael Urban and Brian Dannelly for it—but it’s Jena Malone’s performance that brings the line to life and makes it a great moment in the film.
The character of Mary is so strongly written it’s clear the writers focused almost exclusively on getting her just right. It's a bit of a shame the other characters weren’t equally well done. However because Mary is so beautifully well drawn it elevates the entire film (that strength alone easily makes this film the superior of the other two I compared it to earlier). The characters of Roland and Cassandra have distinct voices and a natural air about them—my guess is that these two are most like the two writers, so they came more naturally. The biggest disappointment for me was Patrick Fugit’s character Patrick. The writer’s didn’t seem to quite know what to do with him. He fulfills the role of decent guy for Mary to fall for; he says all the right mediating things. But he never comes across as a real character. Patrick is a placeholder given props like a skateboard to stand in for genuine development and growth. It hurts the film, I think, that I really couldn’t care if he does manage to reach Mary. Their relationship is potentially very strong in dramatic possibilities, but those are stagnant throughout the film. However, Patrick Fugit is such an excellent actor that he can make his weak material very good throughout the film, he managed to make a banal moment, “I really don’t care” at the end of the film come across naturally.
The biggest problem with the film is Hillary Faye. Quite simply she is a collection of negative stereotypes. Mandy Moore only accentuates this with her overacting. She only performs; she doesn’t act in one scene of the film. She is always mugging for camera by staying over-the-top. Part of this is in the writing; her character is simply weakly conceived. When Roland posts the pictures of her when she was younger it should give us insight into her character. It should tell us something essential about why she’s become the way she is. Instead it’s a childish, low-brow joke, making fun of appearances in the absence of finding something legitimate to take aim at. Moore’s overacting pulls along the performances of her two cronies. In my mind all these characters are completely dismissible and distract from the truly interesting parts of the movie. Hillary Faye is a melodrama plot device to roughly transition us from sequence to sequence; it’s weak writing and inhibits a great movie from emerging.
And speaking as someone who was part, parcel, and leading the charge of this subculture in middle school, I think they nailed the portrayal on the head. There are some great little digs like the Emmanuel shooting range, the way people are always putting their hands in the air, and the applause at the first person to respond to an alter call—along with many other things I found funny as a former insider many people might never even get as jokes.
The soundtrack is adequate, but I think that Newsboys and Third Day could have been used to excellent effect in at least two scenes. Janis Ian would have perfectly matched the sharper more satirical edge of the film while maintaining the core of tender compassion. “Ride me Like a Wave” playing softly in the background of the sex scene would have been much more appropriate than the sound effects used.
I’m also pleased that this film will make one of the best possible examples of why swearing CAN be necessary to a film. The different language of Roland and Cassandra is essential in our believing and accepting their outsider status. The moment of rupture Mary experiences is understandable even if it didn’t work for me very well. And the moment when Dean confronts the pastor at the end is finely done.
A great movie is definitely hiding within this film, but the diamond wasn’t fully polished and cut; it’s still got some dirt and crud hanging onto it. Still, I look at it and still think it’s quite beautiful.