Light-hearted 'Saved' spoofs evangelicals and their quirks


Religion News Service
May 22 2004

WASHINGTON - A Christian high school is the setting for Hollywood's most recent experiment in religious films since Mel Gibson's ''The Passion of the Christ'' hit the screens.

But the film, ''Saved!,'' which includes such superstars as Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin and Jena Malone, and has stirred up its own kind of controversy, is no ''Passion.'' Instead, it features a light-hearted script that parodies and stereotypes evangelical Christians to explore the themes of teenage pregnancy, homosexuality and social acceptance.

''It makes you re-evaluate your faith,'' Culkin said in an interview. ''It's a movie that asks you to question your own faith and to second-guess yourself. I think that's one of those things that anyone - not only me - can take away from it.''

The film, to be released Friday, centers on the lives of a group of high school students who are coming to grips with the evangelical views of the social structure around them.

The stage for the movie is set when the principal, Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan), does a front flip onto the stage at a school pep rally before announcing to a cheering crowd ''the Lord Jesus is in the house.''

Hoping to steer a classmate away from the gay life, popular ''good girl'' Hilary Faye (Moore) holds a prayer meeting for the boy. Meanwhile, the boy's girlfriend, Mary (Malone), who has already tried to help him after seeing a vision of Jesus, has become pregnant in the process.

When the domineering Hilary Faye denounces Mary for questioning her faith, Mary finds the comfort of friendship with two of her high school's misfits - the school's lone Jewish girl Cassandra (Eva Amurri) and Hilary Faye's wheelchair-using brother Roland (Culkin). She also finds romance with skater boy Patrick, played by ''Almost Famous'' star Patrick Fugit.

''I loved Mary,'' Malone said of her character at an advanced screening of the film. ''She's a normal girl who's grown up with this specific faith (and) this foundation is starting to crack around her.''

Directed and co-written by Brian Dannelly, the script reflects some of the religious experiences he and co-writer Michael Urban had growing up. Dannelly attended a Catholic elementary school, a Christian high school and a Jewish summer camp.

''The biggest lesson I learned from my experiences became a line in the script: They can't all be wrong, and they can't all be right,''' Dannelly said in United Artists' ''Saved!'' production notes. ''I wanted to write a movie based on that.''

Urban grew up in a traditional Southern Baptist home and attended college in Florida. ''I regularly saw people who lived in this metaphysical world with punishments and demons and things I had a hard time understanding,'' he said in the production notes. ''Sometimes things are twisted and exploited in the name of religion or God. I wanted to explore that.''

But not everyone agrees with this type of exploration.

A Lutheran church and a Christian home owner backed out of providing sites for the film after taking a look at the script, according to United Artists.

Afraid of upsetting fans, a Christian music label prohibited a popular Christian rock band from performing in the film. ''Obviously some things are exaggerated for comedic effect,'' Mandy Moore said in a United Artists statement. ''But the message of this film is not about mocking Christians. It isn't anti-anything at all. It is about discovering who you are and what you believe in.''

The film's producer Sandy Stern contended the film portrays a timely view of American teens' receptivity to religion.

''Something is going on in the world right now that we haven't quite seen - Christianity has become a multibillion dollar industry,'' Stern said in the production notes. ''With war, Sept. 11, Columbine, drugs, AIDS, terrorism, with everything we're faced with, people are turning to religion.

''With Saved!' we're trying to show how teenagers are using religion as a way to cope in their day-to-day world.''

Actors were moved by youth rallies

It's the stereotypes the movie makes fun of, not Christians, Macaulay Culkin says.

He and actress Jena Malone insist the audience must decide what the film means to them personally.

Because some of the members of the cast of 'Saved!' were not familiar with the evangelical Christian culture, they read conversations in Christian chat rooms and attended Christian youth rallies.

While being interviewed, Malone and Culkin spoke about the Christian rock bands, beanbags, lava lamps, free Bibles and 40,000 passionate young people they saw at the rallies.

'These young men and women were so passionate in their beliefs,' Malone said. 'They're willing to throw their entire life into it. I hadn't seen that similar passion with many young people my age. That's really commendable and valuable, but also a little tricky because belief is very powerful and very beautiful, but can be very destructive.'

Neither Culkin nor Malone claims any religion.

'There are thousands of different religions, and there's thousands of different stories,' Malone said. 'I'm still searching. I didn't grow up with any religion.'

Culkin attended Catholic school for five years. 'I already had all this hellfire and brimstone beaten into me when I was younger, so I had already had that natural fear or respect. I believe in a higher power, but I can't conform to any one religion because there's a lot of baggage that comes with it. I believe in being a good person. It's that simple.'

Check Get Out!, the Jackson Sun's new entertainment magazine, on Thursday to see when 'Saved' will be showing in theaters here.