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Saved!

Starring: Jena Malone, Patrick Fugit, Macauley Culkin, Eva Matarazzo, Mandy Moore, Martin Donovan and Mary-Louise Parker
Directed by: Brian Dannelly

Bluntly speaking? Saved! is a rare original film that utilized the immense talent working its script to take it from clever after-school-special material on up to a film that actually matters.

And, yes, Saved! is a comedy - a damn good one. It plays kind of like a Passion of the Christ meets Mean Girls, with a lot less speaking-in-tongues and longer skirts, to put it in layman's terms.

Newbie filmmakers, writer/director Brian Dannelly, co-writer Michael Urban, were allowed to be honest with the people in their script. The result is less a bible thumping "them others are all bad" look at a religion and much more of a delightful heart-felt look at modern lifestyles, the one-ness of puberty struggles and the need for love of your fellow human - the bible's initial goal - to reign supreme.

I swear the film is not a two-hour sermon. Trust me. This half-a-heathen, über thespian cast or not, would have been runnin' for the hills of Purgatory Peek if it were.

Story goes… Mary (Jena Malone) is a good Christian teenage gal. She even attends a Christian high school and maintains the Christian personal life. When her long-time make-out buddy decides he's thinking of admitting he's gay she has a vision (or so she believes) of Jesus himself to save the lad. She is instructed to sleep - ala fornicate le hidedasuasage - with the boy and thusly save him from gaydom, and an afterlife of hellfire yadda yadda.

It's delicate, but handled hilariously well.

Naturally, poor inexperienced - unprotected - Mary gets pregnant. Abortion is never an option and friends are far from available for consultation on parenthood planning. In fact Mary's bestest friend, Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore) happens to be the Christianiest of Christians at their school. Frankly Hilary would probably stage a crucifixion if she found out about Mary's little DNA mixing faux pas.

Meanwhile, Mary's single-and-looking means-well mother (Mary-Louise Parker) is in the middle of her own identity crisis of sorts and has no clue of Mary's dilemma. So, poor Mary finds no room at the Inn so-to-speak. She's utterly alone. Mary quickly finds herself on the other side of the pulpit tracks hangin' with Hilary's wheelchair bound rebel-on-a-roll brother Roland (Macauley Culkin - in a fantastic portrayal) and the high school's token gothic Jew, Cassandra (Eva Amurri).

And just when her life couldn't possibly get more complicated, the high school's new pastor (Martin Donovan - in a delightfully off-casting type showing) ends up to have a studly teenage son, Patrick (Patrick Fugit). Faster then you can give ten hail Marys, and chomp down a communion wafer, Patrick and his refreshingly honest heart, moves in - in more ways than one.

Mary just may be saved from a life of ruin yet.

Saved! is fantastic. It is a breath of fresh air that hopefully will be taken for what it is; a comedy about getting along and acceptance in each other's differences.

The pedigree cast radiates off the screen. The reigning "Queen of the Under-25-Indie" crowd, Jena Malone is always a trusted vessel of ability. In a sea of mediocrity this youngin' manages to continually find riveting roles, and stories delivering to us a multi-layered sponge cake of talent. The left-field spice is added to the thespian pot in the form of a sparkling Mandy Moore who delivers a what-it-may-have-been-like-in-the-teenage-years (aka "The pre-Mary Kay Mascara Addiction Years") glance at what can only be Tammy Faye Baker. Macauley Culkin's subtle realisms given to his character Roland are so intricate you know this is one party monster that did his research. Frustratingly underrated Patrick Fugit and Heather Matarazzo are two trusted actors that have yet to give a bad performance…though poor Heather's got Princess Diaries 2 heading our way…
The scene stealing Eva Amurri, who got the "fun" bad-girl Cassandra role, should also have a glorious career ahead of her. She looked familiar…then it surfaced from the filing cabinet within, Eva is beautiful Susan Sarandon 's (who's also that yummitini with a sidecar of talent, Tim Robbins' wife) daughter. Perhaps another acting dynasty has been created?

Saved! Is a gem of a film with all too real situations - no matter what your denomination or socioeconomic position - that happens to also be a legitimately funny film. Saved! should evoke great discussion on the ride home from the multiplex…when was the last time a "teen" film did that ? I mean serious discussion, not apple pie jokes!

Snack recommendation: A buffet so you'll can pick what you want.


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