November 4th, 2004 Film, Film Reviews, Personalities, Xpress

Starring: Jena Malone, Mandy Moore, Macauley Culkin, Patrick Fugit, Heather Matarazzo

Directed & Written by Brian Dannelly

If you’re Mel Gibson and you’re going to tell the story of Jesus Christ in a movie, it doesn’t matter how sympathetic to any particular group you are, you’re going to whip up the biggest controversy in cinema so far in the 21st century.

If you’re the creators of Team America: World Police, the forthcoming satirical comedy on the state of the American political condition from the brains behind South Park, you’re likewise going to cop flack from every political quarter in the US.

But it used to be that if you were making a teen comedy, you could be pretty certain of not being branded a heretic, Satanist, or worse (a cardinal sin in George W’s US of A) — unpatriotic.

And if Brian Dannelly, writer/director of Saved!, had opted for any other film from the current stable of bland Porky’s remakes, he might have remained a fairly unnoticed Hollywood filmmaker. But then he had to go and talk about one of the unmentionables in American society; religion.

Everyone from the infamous Reverend Jerry Falwell and the Catholic League to right wing gun nut hate groups got in on the act.

‘There’s these incredibly hateful websites about me and the movie,’ says Dannelly. ‘It wasn’t so much what they were saying about me but it was what they were saying about my producer being Jewish which was really hurtful.’

But the interest all that controversy generated must have a double-edged sword. ‘In the old days you had your local paper to look at,’ Dannelly says, ‘now you’re inundated with coverage; you can see what every critic in the world says about your film. I’m not sure if it’s a good or a bad thing,’ he laughs.

‘In America we got a PG 13 and it was just before the Janet Jackson thing and all the other scandals and I don’t think we would have got that rating if we’d released it later.’

Owing to the current US political climate, it’s a wonder Saved! got released at all — despite its seemingly innocuous story.

It introduces a virtuous young Christian girl, Mary (reading into that whatever subtext you like). Joyous in the belief of the Lord’s blessings, she shares her life with her single mother and her equally pious but catty friends, led by holier than thou Hilary Faye (Moore).

When Mary’s boyfriend reveals that he thinks he’s gay, she gives up her virginity to him, believing it’s God’s will and will return him to the true path of righteousness.

It doesn’t go strictly according to plan and Mary falls pregnant, leading to her being slowly ousted from her former bible-bashing clique of friends, falling in with school bad girl Cassandra and Hilary Faye’s misfit disabled brother Roland (an all-grown-up Culkin).

It brings Mary out of the shell of her former life and brings about the moral of the story, as described by Dannelly; ‘My goal was to for you to think about what you’re doing, about people’s faith and when that can hurt other people.’

As Mary herself says near the climax; ‘Why has God made us all different if He wants us to all be the same?’ It’s a worthy message and gives a mostly stock standard teen comedy a bit more heart than your average dick-in-apple-pie genre piece.

Saved! Is a little more like the smarter teen films like Election and the more recent Girl Next Door than the frat party crap most movies are full of to appeal to under 21s, but don’t rush out to see it expecting Passion of the Christ-like issues of controversy.

Interesting to see Macauley Culkin back after all these years, making you realise his cuteness in the Home Alone days was all he really had to offer; his acting is as disabled as his character.

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