Saved centers on the most brutal of high school aspects, the clique, the associations that determine your social position for four years

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Every so often a teen oriented film comes on the scene. While the typical teen flick is a series of sexual romps, drugs and popular music, this film tries to focus a satirical eye on the growing movement in America, the Christian right. Even though this film avoids these staples there are a few remnants there.

The film centers on the most brutal of high school aspects, the clique, the associations that determine your social position for four years. In the American Eagle Christian High School the leader of the pack is Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore), a devoted young woman who expresses her faith in song with her singing group the Christian Jewels. She filters everything in life through her faith, not necessarily a bad thing but as with anything aspect of life without balance, can lead to a lack of control. One member of the in Christian crowd, Mary (Jenna Malone) soon finds a real test of her faith when her boyfriend Dean (Chad Faust) announces that he is gay. Mary has a bump to the head induced "vision" that Jesus wants her to sacrifice her precious virginity in order to effect the "degayification" of the now doomed Dean. Of course, Mary is certain that Jesus will take into account her noble purpose and restore her to a chase and pristine state. Unfortunately, Mary is soon looking down at the dreaded blue strip on a home pregnancy test. While Dean is shipped off to a reorientation center Mary is now ostracized by her former best friends. Meanwhile, the one Jewish girl around, Cassandra (Eva Amurri) forms a friendship with Hilary’s wheelchair bound and cynical brother Roland (Macaulay Culkin). There are enough inter-relationships here for several films.

Usually, for a satire to work it has to be tightly focused. Here, however, there is a bit too much of a crowd on the scene. The many ancillary characters tend to obfuscate the plot. The film tries to be a combination of Mean Girls and the Breakfast Club but ultimately ends up just a bit too over the top. The focus here is venom over humor. While the film is an important work for what it is attempting to do it could have been tighter in structure and achieved more than it musters here. Any group that embraces extremes is subject to satirical treatment but that parody should be without malice and done in a good nature format in order to garner a wider audience. Here the girls are so extreme that the more subtle points are often lost. The extremism also leaves the audience without a point of reference required to identify on an emotional level with the characters. Despite the flaws I still found Saved to be an enjoyable film, carried to a large part by the enthusiasm of a talented cast.

I have been a fan of young Jenna Malone for most of her career. With films like Donnie Darko, Bastard out of Carolina and Cheaters to her credit, it is obvious that this young woman has talent and will only grow in success. In Saved, she is too restraint in her performance, at times almost overpowered by her castmates. Mandy Moore is in the midst of a rare thing, a pop singer that is growing as an actress. Initially she took on more sympathetic, softer roles but here she rips into the zealous venom of Hilary. She has a natural comic timing and to her credit is willing to take on darker roles like this. Macaulay Culkin is, of course, best known for Home Alone. He also is taking on roles like Saved that showcase a broader acting ability helping him to make a comeback at his young age and show he has lasting power in film. A special nod of appreciation to the fine actress Heather Matarazzo, I first noticed her in the definitive anti-teen flick Welcome to the Dollhouse and here she plays the classic geek to a tee. The Saved cast works well off each other with the ease of an ensemble cast that has been together for years. Saved is a film that is carried by the cast and it is their performances that bring the enjoyment Saved holds.

Saved is the freshman feature for writer/director Brian Dannelly. While most of the flaws of Saved are in presentation I have to admit he has an eye for pacing a flick. Saved has a natural, organic flow that sweeps the audience along for the ride. Although the many sub plots often cloud the message, Saved is above others of the genre.

The individual scenes are well composed and expertly lit. The message of intolerance is not lost here. After all Jesus did reach out for the misfits first. It appears that Dannelly had so many ideas to bring this point out that he just tried to fit it all in one film. It might have been a bit better off if he created his own little universe here, like the one manufactured in early Kevin Smith films, and make a few films out of the subject matter.

The Saved DVD is well done and gives the purchaser some delightful extra bang for the buck. The Dolby 5.1 audio is well balanced creating a realistic sound field. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video is clear, free and defects with a nicely realistic color palette. There are two commentary tracks provided. The one with the director, co-author and producer delve into the purpose of Saved form initial idea to realization. I found the commentary featuring Mandy Moore and Jena Malone vivacious, two young women laughing about the work they have done. There is a behind the scenes featurette ‘Heaven Help Us’ that showcases the off screen chemistry the young cast had. The deleted scenes are interesting but a bit pedantic, obvious as to why they where omitted. There is also a blooper reel that typically shows the many misspoken lines and missed queues found in any production. While some may be offended by Saved it should be taken for what it is, a satire. Despite some short comings, Saved holds its own in a vast waste land of teen romp flicks and actually does contain an important message. For those that enjoy an off beat flick give Saved a chance.

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