The teenage comedy might well be a dead genre, if we think about the predictable titles it brings to screen and, no offense, the fact that most of them are vehicles for stars like Lindsay Lohan and Hilary Duff. Anyway, I'm not the kind of person that rejects clichés (you know I love romantic comedies), but every time a film of this genre reduces a bit the degree of stereotypes and introduces something original and fresh I tend to automatically think of it as a good movie.
There's a reason why movies like "10 things I hate about you" are so well cast: Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger understood the game better than Hilary and Chad Michael Murray. When "Saved!" opens, we see the sky and the acting credits: Jena Malone from "Donnie Darko", Patrick Fugit from "Almost Famous", the long lost home alone Macaulay Culkin...Anyone who doesn't think Mandy Moore is a good actress should stop reading right now. Director Brian Dannelly knows who to choose. And he chooses Jesus. The characters attend a Christian school.
The obligatory condiments he includes in his script, co-written with wit by Michael Urban. There's a thoughtful girl properly called Mary (Malone) who looses her virginity because she thinks Jesus told her to –you wait to see why because it's hilarious-; there's a Jesus freak, Hilary Faye (Moore), who is more devilish than heavenly; and her cripple brother Roland (Culkin). Finally there's Patrick (Fugit), who really likes Jenna and wants to do her good; but he's not an ugly looser like it happens with this characters. Dannelly doesn't go that far.
This is the kind of movie where everything means something and maybe something more. Images are sometimes charged with symbols, the characters' lines are usually open to multiple interpretations. Movies that do this are usually annoying, but in "Saved!" it doesn't bother because that's precisely the film's point: believing in the higher power, being connected, save and being saved. And if you don't want to forgive the metaphors, check out the language of the teenagers: palpable, smart but not unreal. Honest.
When characters in teenage comedies speak this way there's room for things that begin to appear naturally: laugh (which you don't get from every 'comedy' these days), tenderness, sympathy, guilt, sadness. Let's just say that when Dannelly chooses Jesus, his "Saved!" is also saving itself from being awful. With religion as a main context, he gets the freedom for the symbolism and a precise soundtrack choice that exists only to accompany the feelings of the characters (the finest example of this use is Zach Braff's "Garden State"); besides the developing of a plot line concerning an adult relationship. The players are Martin Donovan and the superb and beautiful Mary-Louise Parker, in the kind of process two adults would live throughout a whole season of "The O.C". Dannelly doesn't have the time for that, and with the religious focus he achieves something surprisingly mature and, consequently, quite great (pay attention to the last scene; the last time Donovan is on screen).
Jena Malone is the extraordinary done by the ordinary. It's what she's always done, because she looks so normal and is so tiny that you never expect what she can do...And she does a lot. Culkin's return to the screen, if anything, is graceful. Constructing a performance entirely with looks and winning one-liners, the star child seems like a newborn; a talented newborn. About Mandy Moore, she's great because she understands her character is a stereotype and she refuses to be one: she believes in Hilary Faye as Hilary Faye believes in Jesus. And Patrick Fugit is just kind of magical, as is Eva Amurri, who plays the ludicrous Cassandra: another stereotype that is not. If you think carefully, the cast could be the only reason movies like "The Girl Next Door" are good.
As you may realize, it's not easy to write about a teenage comedy. It's not easy to watch one, it's not easy to tolerate it and it's very difficult to find a good one. "Saved!" also has a senior prom, and it's also at the end of the movie; it's just that at that time we've already learned that it is not any movie.
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