Saved!

Saved! opened way back on May 28, a lifetime ago in terms of the summer movie season, but if you're disenchanted with the current crop of craptacular films and are jonesing to see something between now and Friday (when Fahrenheit 9/11 opens), see if this one is still playing at the movieplex.

Saved! is a movie is that is neither as straightforwardly anti-Christian as its detractors claim nor as subversive as its advocates claim, and that's what I loved most about it.

Much like Dogma, this movie has a deep and abiding affection for Christianity, but hates what it has become, and it skewers the most obnoxious and self-righteous parts of modern evangelical Christianity with a touch more punishing than deft at times. But considering that modern evangelicals hit you with the subtlety of a Mack truck, their treatment in this film is not only fair, its dead perfect accurate.

The main character and narrator is Mary (Jena Malone), a soon-to-be senior at a Baptist high school, who in an attempt to save her good Christian boyfriend (Chad Faust) from the sin of homosexuality, sacrifices her virginity. Like many young people who have been sheltered and don't understand human reproduction (a problem not limited to evangelical youth, I might add), Mary doesn't realize that she can get pregnant from a single sexual episode and winds up, you guessed it, pregnant.

Mary is also a member of the popular clique, the Christian Jewels, led by Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore). Hilary Faye (she is always called both names) is the holiest of the holier-than-thou's, and Moore camps it up in this role to wonderful effect. She combines the "queen bitch" character of teen movies with an irritatingly obsequious holiness without dropping a step. She's pitch-perfect.

There are a couple of side plots that help the story along--Cassandra (Eva Amurri) is the lone Jewish girl in the high school, and of course, she's the hell-raiser who needs to be saved; Roland (Macaulay Culkin, who is far too old to be playing 19 years old) is Hilary Faye's brother, a paraplegic and Cassandra's love interest. Lillian (Mary-Louise Parker) is Mary's mother, a widow who seems to have an interest in Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan), the principal of the Baptist high school where this all takes place. And finally, Patrick (Patrick Fugit) is Pastor Skip's son, a skateboarder "for Christ" who splits time between his undivorced yet utterly estranged parents, his mom in South America and his father the principal, and who falls for Mary early in the film.

But where this film is at its best is where it deals with the dangers of outward holiness. In every case but Mary's, a need to continue to appear holy drives these characters to commit acts they would condemn loud and long were someone else the perpetrator. Hypocrisy is the evil being hammered by this film, and it gets the full treatment.

Vocal christian groups have been dismissive of this film since before it opened, and that's unfortunate because it deals with one of the fundamental qualities that Jesus harped on in the New Testament--modesty. Jesus condemned the Pharisees in Matthew 6 and Luke 18 because of their ostentatious public prayers and their willingness to condemn others as sinners and claim the mantle of righteousness for themselves. It's a lesson many in today's evangelical movement would do well to reacquaint themselves with.

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