I first watched the movie Saved! at the tender age of 15.
Gay, closeted, and convinced I was going to Hell (isn’t religion great?!), I had never seen a movie that tackled questions of faith and sexuality.
So when I stumbled upon Saved!–Brian Dannelly’s 2004 comedy about Mary, a Christian high schooler who accidentally gets pregnant after having sex with her gay boyfriend in order to make him straight (we’ve all been there, right?)–you could say the metaphorical clouds parted and I was immediately converted.
How about we take this to the next level?
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Now, 20 years after it was first released, I decided to give Saved! a rewatch, and count all the reasons why–hand to God–you should too…
It’s written by openly gay filmmaker, Brian Dannelly, who based the movie on his own experiences… and then some.
I will forever bow down to Brian Dannelly for gifting the world with Saved! It’s got everything you’d want in an early aughts movie: outlandish high school shenanigans, biting social commentary, and a stacked cast including Mandy Moore, Jena Malone, Macaulay Culkin (in one of his first adult roles!), Mary Loise Parker, Patrick Fugit, Eva Amurri (aka Susan Sarandon’s daughter), and queer icon, Heather Matarazzo.
But what makes Saved! even more special is that Dannelly based many of the characters on his own experiences in Baptist school.
Said the writer/director back in 2004: “In the Baptist school there was the one Jewish girl that everyone was trying to save, there was a girl who got pregnant, there was a gay kid. And there were definitely those kinds of social dynamics: The more spiritual you are, the more you know how to quote Bible verses, the more popular you are.”
He even hit up some AOL chat rooms (remember those?! 🤭) to research the film, according to The New York Times.
“I went undercover on AOL as a Christian and talked to people about some of the issues that are in the film,” he admitted. “And I did get one line from that. ‘You’re not born a gay, you’re born again’ came from chat dialogue.”
Talk about commitment!
You get to see Mandy Moore at her most unhinged.
A lot of people know Mandy Moore from her strong performances in A Walk To Remember or NBC’s This is Us. She’s also a pop star, I guess!
But honestly… Ms. Mandy gives the best performance of her career in Saved!, and yes, I will die on this hill.
In the movie, she plays Hilary Faye, the Jesus-obsessed queen bee of her high school who will do anything to ahem, save, a lost soul…
Like when she tries to perform an exorcism on Mary, at the direction of the school youth pastor… Side note: the below also includes one of the movie’s most iconic scenes involving a Bible.
Or when she’s all too willing to help translate for someone whose speaking in “tongues:”
Sure, Moore may play the villain in the movie, but that’s why we love it!
There’s soooo many jokes that wouldn’t fly in 2024, but also a ton of heart.
There’s no skirting around it. Between the R word and homophobic slurs galore, derogatory terms are thrown around like candy in Saved! It’s unfortunate, and yet, there’s still so much goodness to be found within the movie.
The reason the movie works so well is because, not only is it a hilarious satire on Christianity, but it also forces you to think about what ultimately drives people to believe the things they do. (Do I sound super pretentious, like I went to film school?! I didn’t, THANK GOD!).
Dannelly described it best in a 2004 interview with Tail Slate, where he shared how he mixed satire with humanity.
“Most satires don’t allow viewers to really connect with the characters. And I think that’s something I really tried to do with the movie,” he said. “I thought it was important to try and make my audience care about the people in the movie. And you can only do that by making the characters seem very real, very human, like people you know, people we are, people the audience could connect with. And I think that’s important for making a meaningful movie, [for telling a story that viewers can relate to].”
One of my favorite storylines that speaks to this humanity revolves around a disabled character who uses a wheelchair, played by Culkin. In the movie, Culkin has a non-disabled love interest who never makes a huge deal out of his disability.
During one scene, Culkin’s character alludes to his disability and how he doesn’t want to be with someone just because he “needs” them or relies on them for help. It’s a strangely progressive scene (and larger storyline) that feels far ahead of its time, even by today’s standards.
Finally, let’s talk about the gay sh*t!
Sure, religion is a huge theme in Saved! But you know what else is?! BEING GAY.
The movie starts out with a literal breathtaking coming-out (tehe), which kicks everything into motion, and sends everyone involved into an absolute tailspin.
Dean, the gay in question, is quickly sent off to a “de-gay-ification” (a fancy term for ahem, conversion therapy). His girlfriend, Mary (now pregnant!), is left grappling with what him being gay means for their relationship and her core beliefs.
Hell, there’s even an attempted exorcism involved!
Who knew being gay could cause so much drama?!
And while the movie never outwardly screams, “it’s okay to be gay!,” it does preach (pun intended, zing!) pretty heavily on tolerance for others.
During one of the final scenes in the film (MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!), Dean crashes his prom–boyfriend in tow!–leading to a confrontation with the school pastor, who declares the Bible “is black in white when it comes to homosexuality.”
Fortunately, our girl Mary is a Changed Woman™, having gone through a long and winding journey of self-discovery, only to find things are actually a lot more
In a fiery speech worthy of an Oscar, Mary rails against the bigots in her school, who choose to stay narrow-minded, thus summarizing the biggest takeaway from the entire movie:
“So everything that doesn’t fit into some stupid idea of what you think God wants, you just try to hide or fix or get rid of? It’s all too much to live up to! No one fits in one hundred percent of the time.
Why would God make us all so different if He wanted us to be the same?”
BOOM! We have no choice but to stan!
All in all, watching Saved! as a god-fearing, closeted, disabled, self-loathing teenager was ultimately a godsend.
Watching a character struggle with reconciling with their faith and sexuality made me feel a lot less alone in the world. Not to mention, seeing a love story involving someone with a disability gave me hope that one day, it would be possible for me too. Yes, I realize how corny this all sounds, but it’s true!
And while Saved! isn’t without it’s imperfections (it was the year of our lord 2004, after all) and I no longer know where I stand when it comes to God or faith or whatever, it’s exactly the kind of movie I needed at that awful time in my life.
For that alone, I will forever count my blessings, knowing this film exists.