Saved! is available to rent or buy now.
Director Brian Dannelly once said that his film Saved! was based on his own experiences in an ultra-religious high school as he struggled with his sexuality. Maybe it’s due to Dannelly’s raw honesty that Saved! stands out as one of the best comedies of 2004 and one of the most audacious. And yet, Saved! also remains a film very few people have seen despite a Sundance premiere and a positive US theatrical run.
On the surface, Saved! appears to be your standard teen high school comedy, with the classic popular kids, geeks, outcasts and rebels all taking their place in the narrative. But, this is where simple comparisons to the average teen comedy stop, as we meet the passionate evangelical ‘good girl’ Mary (Jena Malone). Mary’s life is centred around God, Jesus, and her school friendship circle of the Christian Jewels (a popular religious clique that organise events and sing in assemblies). Even Mary’s mum symbolises spiritual perfection, earning the No. 1 Christian interior decorator title. But, as the summer vacation progresses, Mary’s perfect Christian boyfriend Dean (Chad Faust) is about to drop a bombshell as he announces he might be gay. Filled with horror following Dean’s unexpected revelation, Mary takes it upon herself to cure him by any means necessary.
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Her cure initially involves extended kissing sessions and breast fondling. However, Dean lacks passion in embracing his hidden heterosexuality despite Mary’s despair. Therefore, Mary takes the bold step of having sex with him after catching him enjoying a gay magazine in his bedroom; the magazine images his sexual inspiration. Unfortunately for Mary, this does not cure Dean’s homosexuality either, and his parents send him to Mercy House, a Christian boarding school specialising in drug rehabilitation and ‘degayification’.
As the new school year begins at American Eagle Christian High School, Mary’s world is about to become even more complicated as she discovers her radical attempts to cure Dean have led to her pregnancy. Meanwhile, her ultra evangelical friend Hilary Faye is disgusted when her long-suffering disabled brother (Macaulay Culkin) finds love in the arms of the school rebel Cassandra (Eva Amurri), the only Jew in school.
Now at this point, you may be expecting me to praise Saved! for its cutting and humorous dissection of religion and its ever-present double standards. And yes, Saved! is indeed brilliant as it takes a razor-sharp scalpel to the false values and moral turpitude that surround many religious communities where hate and intolerance masquerade as love and unity. But, despite its at times cutting commentary, Saved! has no intention of ridiculing faith or belief, and it’s here where Dannelly’s movie is ingenious. For here, Saved! has a core message that highlights the ability of all faiths to embrace change, diversity and equality if they choose to do so.
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Of course, some may argue this is ultimately a cop-out to avoid offending religious communities. Still, it’s a voice of hope, the movies final message bound in our ability to embrace new perspectives and new worlds no matter the beliefs we carry. Does that mean Saved! is perfect? No, there are flaws, from its light touch discussions on the horror of conversion therapy to its slightly wet ending. But, Saved! is outstanding as a satirical dissection of religions enduring power to divide us. Many will argue Dannelly’s film is not an LGBTQ+ movie, but its themes reflect the experiences of many LGBTQ+ people of faith who have been forced to find a new path in redefining their beliefs.