Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
“Jesus is watching,” reads a Christian-classroom mural in 2004’s Saved! — uninviting words of warning that intractably back teens into a corner of bargaining.
Do this to avoid that, rather than do something because it’s clearly the right thing. How can a teenage girl in that environment ever reconcile her imperfections when instruction pushes her to pray for morning sickness to be cancer, not pregnancy?
It’s one of many moments that’s screamingly funny but also sad in Brian Dannelly’s incisive, but not entirely irreverent, send-up of Christian fundamentalism. The title’s exclamation point isn’t for show, but questions Christianity’s constant urgency: Is salvation really unattainable for these kids if they’re not seeking it this second, every second, 24/7?
Spurred by a head-trauma vision of Jesus, Mary (Jena Malone) has sex with her boyfriend, who’s come out as gay, to convert him. When she gets pregnant, Mary hides it from social queen Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore, less a villain than a teen with severe lapses in judgment) and befriends paraplegic Roland (a quick-witted, wry Macaulay Culkin) and rebellious Cassandra (Eva Amurri), the school’s only “Jewish.”
Dannelly and Michael Urban’s script could’ve settled for empty-calorie satirical slapdowns, but instead posed thoughtful, challenging questions about the relative worthlessness of forced value systems.
Genuinely upbeat about kindness and generosity, Saved! is only snide about Christianity as a hypocritical weapon or crutch and never spirituality itself. If ever a film successfully mixed John Waters’ naughty sass with Frank Capra’s cordial sweetness, the strangely moving Saved! did it.