Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Saved



USA 2004 : Brian DANNELLY : 92 mins

The title of Saved! includes an exclamation mark – but this punctuation is presumably not motivated to avoid confusion with Edward Bond’s play Saved, which became an notorious artistic cause celebre back in 1965 with its unflinching depiction of violence and degradation. This new Saved! is nothing like so confrontational although in the current climate its blending of political/religious satire with bouncy teen comedy is, by major-studio Hollywood standards, decidedly subversive.

This ‘trojan horse’ technique is spelled out in the film itself by would-be ‘hip priest’ Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan): “You get their attention, then you hit ’em with the message – and boom! You’ve saved another soul!” Skip is the principal of Baltimore’s American Eagles Christian High, a somewhat extreme (but by no means implausible) example of what in Britain would be known as “faith-based” education. The school’s strict moral stance causes problems for pupil Mary (Jena Malone) when she becomes pregnant by her (gay) boyfriend Dean (Chad Faust). Mary’s “problem” brings her into conflict not only with the authorities, but also with aggressively devout teen-queen fellow pupil Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore). An unholy furore rapidly ensues.

Setting Saved! in Baltimore is presumably a nod to that city’s high priest of harmful cinematic matter John Waters, though Dannelly’s approach is much more restrained than anything Waters might have dreamt up. Despite its engagingly skepticism and nimble wit, this is fundamentally quite a conventional foray into territory previously covered by the likes of Election, Heathers and, most recently, Mean Girls.

The new twist is, obviously, the Christian element – which is nothing if not topical, with the US governed by one of the most ostentatiously religious administrations in its history and Mel Gibson’s blood-streaked passion-play burning up the box offices. An easy target, of course, but Dannelly and co-writer Michael Urban do land several arrows close to bullseye – they give the monstrous Hilary Faye most of the best lines, and Moore milks them all for maximum comic potential: “I am filled with Christ’s love!” she barks, hurling a bible at a hapless unbeliever’s head.

17th October, 2004
[seen 10th October : Odeon, Nuneaton : press show – CinemaDays event]

by Neil Young