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Not Another Teen Movie

by Keren Engelberg

May 27, 2004 | 8:00 pm

Seventy-four percent of all evangelicals feel the mass media are hostile to their moral and spiritual values. -- Religion and Ethics Newsweekly/U.S. News and World Report Poll, April 2004.

With its satiric take on the zeal of the Christian youth movement, and more broadly, religious extremism, the movie "Saved!," which opens May 28, seems to validate the above poll.

The film centers on Mary (Jena Malone), a popular girl at a Christian high school, and her queen bee best friend, Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore). They're both devout believers, but Mary begins questioning her faith when she becomes pregnant after trying to save her gay boyfriend's soul. She is soon ostracized by Hilary Faye and embraced by the other school misfits, wheelchair-bound Roland (Macaulay Culkin) and Cassandra Edelstein (Eva Amurri), the token Jew.

Predictably, the film was not an easy sell for co-writers Michael Urban and Brian Dannelly (who also directed the film). There was concern over the potential controversy of a religiously flip teen comedy, especially with all of the "Passion" fervor.

"It was naivete, I guess, but we thought, 'Oh, this is a big commercial movie ... it's a teen comedy, of course everybody will want to make it.' Little did we know," Urban said.

Indeed, most of the jokes are at the expense of the ultradevout: A sign in a classroom reads, "Jesus is watching," and the school principal tries to make Jesus hip and accessible to his young flock by injecting street slang into his sermons: "Let's get our Christ on!" "You down with G-O-D?"

Eventually, the script landed in the hands of producers Michael Stipe and Sandy Stern, who got United Artists on board.

They've screened the heck out of it since then "to religious groups, gay groups, teen groups, Christian groups, tastemakers, cinephiles, really any kind of audience you think of," Dannelly said.

One aspect that might prove controversial is the role of Cassandra, the Jewish girl, who, it could be argued, "saves" the Christian kids at the end of the film.

Whether the whole thing comes off as subversive or sweet will certainly be up for debate. But so far, Dannelly said, "the only people that really freak out over the movie are evangelical fundamentalists.... My mom brought a nun to the screening in Maryland and she loved the movie."

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