Reviews

Saved! (2004)

Cynthia Fuchs

'I think we've all had those moments in our lives where we question,' says Brian Dannelly.


Saved!

Director: Brian Dannelly
Cast: Jena Malone, Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin, Patrick Fugit, Eva Amurri
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: MGM
First date: 2004
US DVD Release Date: 2004-10-05
Mahh poosie is a hot pooosie.
-- Cassandra (Eva Amurri), Saved!

We love you Valerie!
-- Brian Dannelly and Sandy Stern, commentary track, Saved!

"The whole idea at the beginning was to sort of have this glorified idea of heaven," says Brian Dannelly, director and co-writer of Saved!, while observing a mobile shot of a gorgeous, fakey-fake blue sky, headed down to earth and the angelic countenance of 17-year-old Mary (Jenna Malone). "I've been born again my whole life," she says in voiceover, her eyes lifted heavenward. For her, such longstanding faith translates to knowing where she's headed, always.

About to be a senior at American Eagle Christian High School, Mary's feeling extra blessed to be playing keyboards with the Girl Gang for Jesus (better known as the Christian Jewels) and in virginal love with her beautiful boyfriend Dean (Chad Faust). As Saved! is a high school romantic comedy refitted to poke moderate fun at Christian evangelism, Mary will, in short order, endure a crisis involving sex. Specifically, it involves generous, loving sex, bestowed by Mary on Dean in an effort to dissuade him from believing he's gay.

Her rationale is at once crazy and understandable: Dean outs himself as he and Mary are frolicking underwater in a swimming pool. Startled by his confession, Mary hallucinates a visitation from Jesus Himself, urging her to "save" poor Dean; she reads this counsel as a mission, after careful contemplation: "How could my boyfriend be gay? He's, like, the best Christian I know... Why had he been stricken with such a spiritually toxic condition?" Days later, she plops herself on poor Dean, who rushes to hide his gay porn mag when she arrives unannounced in his bedroom, then goes through the proper motions. When Dean can't give up his magazines after all, his parents send him off to a Christian "treatment facility," and Mary faces senior year without her boy and usual self-confidence. And pregnant.

As Dannelly, producer Sandy Stern, and co-writer Michael Urban recall during their joint commentary track for MGM's DVD of Saved!, Mary goes on to lose her sense of being in tune with the rest of the world, replacing it with a more profound trust in the people around her. "I think we've all had those moments in our lives where we question," says Dannelly. At which point Urban notes the (then-brewing) controversy about the film, and you watch Mary standing before a giant cross, again gazing upward, but this time, her eyes filled with tears.

After seeing a Lifetime movie starring Valerie Bertinelli (who is adored by all the commentary track participants), Mary is partly heartened and partly horrified. Her confusion is reflected everywhere in the film, in the school's fountain, mirrors, and windows, but also in her increasingly wavering relationships, with her young mother Lillian (Mary-Louise Parker), and her soon-to-be-ex-best-friend and the film's excellent anti-goody-two-shoes, Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore), a character Dannelly describes as "really believing she's doing the right thing." Moore and Malone share a second commentary track for the DVD, in which they remember specific shooting experiences, and think through their characters' separate plights: Mary's increasing independence and Hilary Faye's increasing uncertainty over her own "personal relationship with Jesus Christ Our Lord." Their reflections suggest not only their own friendship, but these talented performers' capacities for imagining their ways into other lives.

In addition, the DVD includes a featurette called "Heaven Help Us" (sort of making-of, sort of promotion-lite); a blooper reel; the usual deleted and extended scenes (an alternate opening, in which Hilary Faye and Mary share a Diet Coke and discuss football players); and another section of deleted scenes, called "Revelations," which show maybe-alternative character trajectories. The commentary tracks are easily the DVD's most satisfying extras, even though the guys tend to repeat themselves ("People say the film is over the top," "Mary's on this journey").

Mary must find her way in a world that remains willfully ignorant of her dilemma, because to admit its possibility would be to disrupt the order of American Eagle. She takes the obvious decision, to hide her swelling belly under increasingly big sweaters, several adorned with Christmas or Easter decals, as the film is clunkily organized around "holidays" ("Lucky for me," Mary says, "Pregnancy was about as common as the flesh-eating virus; no one knew what it was"). Lillian takes a practical approach to child-rearing; as she tells Mary, "Having a child is like owning a car, says mom. I can change the oil, fill the gas tank, take it to a carwash, but if the carburetor broke, I wouldn't have a clue how to fix it."

That she doesn't pick up on her daughter's changing body appears to be the result of her own distraction, an illicit (unmarried) relationship with the high school's high-on-Jesus principal, Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan). (He's introduced literally back-flipping onto the auditorium stage, pumping his crowd: "Are you down with the G.O.D.?") Skip and Lillian feel guilty about their mutual desire, but they also can't quite figure out how come it feels so good. Their quandary mirrors that of the kids, as poor Mary embodies so sweetly, so earnestly, and so intelligently. "Why would God make everyone different if He wanted us all to be the same?" she asks, and even the baby evangelicals are beginning to feel her pain. Toward the end of resolving this dilemma within 92 minutes, for Mary anyway, Saved! provides her with an appropriate second object of affection, Pastor Skip's skateboarding champion son Patrick (Patrick Fugit).

As he identifies Mary as a principled outcast amongst the less than self-reliant lambs, Patrick takes it upon himself to "save" her, by way of asking her on a date. Hilary Faye also develops an interest in Patrick. Though she premises her Miss Popularity title on frequent and very visible declarations of faith, Hilary Faye is as mean a girl as ever walked a high school movie hallway. And the movie uses her to its best advantage: at once supercilious and insecure, she's the poster girl for self-serving Christianity. And indeed, the film has part of its most fun with her. "I'm saving myself until marriage," she announces during the girls' target practice at the Emmanuel Shooting Range (whose promotional tagline is "An Eye for an Eye"), "And I'll use force if necessary."

The other students ritually quake at such pronouncements, and Hilary Faye knows how to use her clout to get what she wants; among her most dedicated acolytes are Tia (Heather Matarazzo) and Veronica (Elizabeth Thai), both dyeing their hair blond to match their idol's, and pleased when Mary's moved "out" of favor as they can scurry in to fill her spot. Mary is aided in her resistance from Hilary Faye's brother Roland (Macaulay Culkin). In a wheelchair since a childhood accident (he reports that Hilary Faye calls it a "miracle" that she found him at the base of the tree from which he fell), Roland is as cynical as his sister is pious (that is, both front at least a little). Though she has purchased and drives a van equipped to accommodate Roland's chair, she resents him mightily, asking why he has to "make people feel so awkward about your differently abledness." While she speaks the language, she hasn't quite grasped the concept.

Where Hilary Faye sees a chance to grasp power in each one of American Eagle's religious spectacles, Roland tends to observe from a distance. During one of these moments -- he's escaped the auditorium for a breather outside -- he meets the new girl, Cassandra (Eva Amurri), the film's other beam of energetic light school's only "Jewess," fond of dramatic goth makeup, cigarettes, and tucking up her skirt. Struck by one another's perceptible outsiderness, Roland and Cassandra start a romance, sexy, smart, and among the film's most compelling relationships; she brings out his rebelliousness, even outfits her car so he can drive it, and he offers her devotion.

Rather like Roland, Saved! is stuck at the level of observation. The film's comedy is restrained, more concerned with referencing the high school movie clichés (the girl spats, the fumbling adults, the ridicule of airheaded hotties and elevation of thoughtful dissenters, the diva's comeuppance, and, of course, the prom showdown) that it loses track of its initial focus on this question of what it means to be "saved."

Or maybe more specifically, what it means to be in the business of saving, which has preoccupied institutional religion forever (if only to be financially solvent). That religion as a business has recently discovered the youth market is hardly surprising, and neither is it that the high school movie formula combines with this particular object of parody so easily. The fears that make kids want to be saved are everywhere on display in Saved!: absent parents, sexual mythologies, demonization of others, isolation and alienation. That the movie does offer some viable alternatives to spiritual and moral conformity -- in the shapes of families, in sexual preference and differently abled sex -- is to its credit. That it does so within a nice-girls win, bad-girls suffer formula, is less imaginative.

Music

The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

Keep reading... Show less

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.

There are several ways to write about the Spanish Civil War, that sorry three-year prelude to World War II which saw a struggling leftist democracy challenged and ultimately defeated by a fascist military coup.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)


In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image