In age when teen comedies are dominated by sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, this movie, brought us to by Brian Dannelly, offers a slightly more conservative touch to the largely populated genre. That is a trip to the world of Christianity, or in other words, a religious satire of teens coming to terms with challenges that put their faith to the test. Capitalizing on an underpopulated blend of cheeky PG-13 humor and bold social commentary on religion, this movie offers good-spirited wit that makes the best of its attempts to pitting viewers with satirical jabs at teen Christianity without diving into execution that could rub Christians the wrong way. It does so, unfortunately, by playing things safe to the point where too many punches are pulled and good laughs come few and far in between. On the other hand, one of the biggest accomplishments it holds is by delivering a kindhearted, if occasionally bold tale without being forceful with its predictable message. So, you won't have to go in expecting an hour-and-half sermon. The film follows high school senior Mary Cummings (played by Jena Malone), a born-again teen girl attending a Christian high school with her friends Hilary Faye (played by Mandy Moore), a devout Christian who strives to get everyone in her class "saved", and Veronica (played by Elizabeth Thai), a Vietnamese girl raised by an African-American couple. Then there is Hilary's handicapped brother Roland (played by Macaulay Culkin) who falls short of Christian faith and falls of a Jewish, cigarette-smoking outsider Cassandra (played by Eva Amurri Martino) who's doesn't quite fall into the category of a good girl. Upon learning her boyfriend Dean (played by Chad Faust) is gay, Mary tries to save him; and her does by losing her virginity to him, only for this parents to send him way to something called the "Mercy House". When she discovers she is pregnant, she becomes subject to unwanted social rejection by her friends who began to turn on her.
There is plenty of poking fun at Christianity which some of the conservative right, predictably so, did not take too kindly to. By no means does this film try to push the boundaries with raunchiness or mean-spirited hostility against believers of Christ. Director Brian Dannelly's approach fires a few good moments of laughter such as a scene in which the lead character makes performs a questionable act in attempt to get boyfriend her boyfriend to divorce from his homosexuality. After all, being gay is a big no-no in the Christian community. Sadly, there just isn't enough good jokes to go around. The film's attempts at satirizing the devout religious nature of the characters are less satisfying and struggle to hit the dynamics of the culture in which teens who grew up in households where attending church was a requirement. There is an overarching belief that establishing a character with faith requires him or her say Jesus in nearly every single line, which happens so with Mandy Moore's Hilary who grows into hypocrisy when her former best friend is nine months from becoming a mother. Balancing kind-hearted humor and religious subtext can be tough trick to pull off, especially when trying to perform the former without tapping into humor Christ-followers may deem edgy. But the film's satire on faith often too shallow borders on the line of pushing a ham-fisted agenda. On the other hand, it doesn't take away from the performances by Jena Malone, Macauley Culkin, Mandy Moore, and Elizabeth Thai who play their roles with good spirits. Patrick Fugit; playing a skateboarder and son of church pastor is fine as well, while Eva Amurri Martino burns fuel as the "bad girl" of the crowd who looks at everyone's spirituality with a cold shoulder. In the end, at least holds a kind heart rather than thrusting with an hostile attitude towards either side of the religious spectrum.
Saved! isn't a home-run in the crowd of teen comedies, or does it meet the criteria of a finely-crafted "Mean Girls at bible school" tale. But the film offers just barely enough cleverness and heart to compensate for the flawed satire that gives the story momentum. Religious or not, it is not too great, or it is definitely not an overtly conventional drama with a hammy agenda that would have otherwise rendered the film into a cheesy afterschool special.