Mary, a student at an ultra-religious high school, has sex with her boyfriend Dean, thinking Jesus wants her to in order to keep him from becoming homosexual. It doesn’t work, but it does make her pregnant, which violates her assumed agreement with Jesus to make her a born again virgin. With her faith shaken, she realizes that her companions are hypocritical, narrow-minded fools, particularly Hilary Faye, the queen of the school, and turns to Cassandra, a rebellious Jew, and Roland, a handicapped agnostic, who is Hilary Faye’s brother.
It’s hard not to like Saved!. It rips at the conservative right, noting the puffed-up, overly pious attitudes and the hypocrisy, promotes tolerance, tosses in some humorous situations, and does it all with engaging, multilayered characters. But that is also the problem. Saved! is a nice movie. While it did offend the insane wing of the Christian church, it isn’t because its message of acceptance is controversial, but because those folks are crazy. It is not an anti-religious film. Nor is it dark. It is friendly and happy. And that’s not what a satire should be.
It starts off right, with Mary narrating, pointing out her bizarre, extremist Christian behaviors as if they were the most natural thing in the world (like her work on the fifty-foot wooden Jesus statue). That’s before we see her in the pool with her boyfriend where they play a game that involves telling secrets. When he says he’s gay, she hits her head and blacks out. Her hyped-up religious reality makes her ripe to see Jesus, which she does, in the form of a lifeguard, and she deduces from this that she should use sex to save Dean, because the Son of God will purify her afterwards. Add in the middle-aged preacher who tries to be hip for God (“Jesus is in the hi-t-ooussse”), Hilary Faye as the school’s Heather, who can’t finish a sentence without praising Jesus, and an ostracized Jewish girl, and all the pieces are in place for a biting attack on organized and unorganized religion, and faith in general. But it doesn’t happen.
Once it is clear the problems are part of religion, the Christian religion in particular, writer/director Brian Dannelly and writer Michael Urban change their mind. The system, it turns out, is fine; it is a few bad eggs who are the problem. All the myriad evils are laid upon Hilary Faye who violates even the Christian Right’s rules of behavior. It’s just a person who’s at fault. Everyone else is good, and before the credits roll, even Hilary Faye is revealed to be a vulnerable and kindly soul who just needs love. That’s not much of a meaningful theme. We’re even left with Mary, whose crisis of faith ended up being only a mild inconvenience of faith, proclaiming how a world so meaningful couldn’t be random and we all need some form of god to get by.
While “can’t we all just get along” is a reasonable basis for a film, Saved! should have been more. It was locked and loaded, then laid down its weapons and declared universal peace. So, instead of a classic religious variant on Heathers, we get a pleasant footnote that will be forgotten in a year or two.