Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin Get ‘Saved!’ In Evangelical Comedy

Young actors see the light in controversial Christian spoof opening next month.

PARK CITY, Utah — Mandy Moore and Macaulay Culkin are
confused. The question puzzling the singer/actress and “Home Alone”
star isn’t whether or not “Saved!” will seem controversial to their
core audiences — because it certainly will — but rather
who their core audiences are.

“What’s your audience, Mac?” Moore asked Culkin the afternoon after
“Saved!” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. The pair shivered in
the cold beside a kiosk plastered with posters for movies vying for
attention.

“Uh, gay, lesbian and, um, 80-year-old women,” Culkin concluded.
“What’s yours?”

“My audience is … God, I don’t even know. Teenage girls and, uh,
teenage guys, or something,” she stammered.

Who knows if Moore — especially after the box-office failures
“Chasing Liberty” and “How to Deal” (see “Mandy Moore Knows ‘How To
Deal’ When A Movie Bombs”
), and the straight-to-cable “All I
Want” — even has an audience?

Yet her turn as the conniving and comical Hilary Faye in “Saved!,” an
iconoclastic and potentially controversial take on a group of
ultrazealous parochial-school teens, could be exactly the kind of
sharply written material she needs to reclaim the momentum “A Walk to
Remember” gave her.

“Saved!” concerns a Christian schoolgirl, played by Jena Malone (“Life
as a House”), who questions her faith when her boyfriend comes out of
the closet and she becomes pregnant in a last-ditch effort to “save”
him. Moore plays her high-strung, highly moral friend. Culkin plays
Mandy’s cynical handicapped brother, while Patrick Fugit (“Almost
Famous”) turns in a charming performance as Malone’s love interest.

The flick’s laughs result mainly from the complications caused by its
characters’ rigidly held beliefs. There’s also the school’s slick,
hip-hop spouting pastor (“God is in the house, yo!”) and the blurry
line dividing secular rock and evangelical Christian music.

Many potentially offensive scenes feel like heightened-for-laughs
reality. But while researching their roles, the film’s cast discovered
there are lots of kids exactly like the ones they play in “Saved!”

“I grew up in Salt Lake City, which has a lot of Mormons, but it’s not
the same [as the movie] at all,” Fugit explained. “When I read the
script, with Pastor Skip using all of those Ebonics, everyone waving
their hands and Hilary Faye always like, ‘Praise Jesus,’ I was like,
‘This is way over the top!’ Then we went to a youth rally and learned
that the movie actually downplays it,” he said.

“I got saved three different times just to see what it was like,”
Malone added.

“It was amazing to see people our age and younger so consumed.
[Evangelism] was such a huge part of who they are,” Moore said. “I was
really unfamiliar with it,” Moore explained. 

One of the biggest laughs at the Sundance premiere came when Hilary
Faye, leading a group of screaming protesters, badgers a pregnant girl
into turning away from an abortion clinic. In another scene, she
organizes a prayer meeting to “save” the boyfriend from being gay.

Beyond its humor, though, “Saved!” delivers a message about tolerance
and understanding.

“That whole world’s not my cup of tea, but I definitely give it its
proper respect,” Culkin said of the Christians depicted.

At the same time, the movie’s moralizing about tolerance isn’t too
blatant or preachy itself. “When I first read the script, I thought it
was just a teeny-bopper thing,” Fugit said. “But then I re-read it more
carefully and decided it’s more earnest than I’d thought.”

“It’s important to question what you believe — religiously, with
the government, everything — when you’re young,” Malone
concluded. “You need a lot of strength but you come out better from
doing it.”

Filmed over 28 days during fall 2002 in Vancouver, British Columbia,
“Saved!” will finally be released nationwide next month, via MGM. The
movie was produced by Single Cell Pictures, the company co-founded by
R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe.

Brian Dannelly, who also co-wrote the screenplay, makes his
feature-film directorial debut. “The situational humor is wonderful and
I enjoyed the sort of truth the script brought,” Malone said.