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Posts Tagged ‘Mandy Moore’


Review: Saved!

(Originally published in Gapers Block on June 11, 2004, I decided to add this to the Deleted Scenes archives because of Moore’s recent film, Tangled. The film is now available on video and On Demand through Amazon, as well as on video through Netflix.)

Directed by Brian Dannelly.
Starring Jena Malone, Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin, Patrick Fugit, Heather Matarazzo, Eva Amurri, Martin Donovan and Mary-Louise Parker.

The unholy suckiness that Christian rock generally traffics in is entirely too easy to make fun of, so it’s refreshing that Saved! takes the high road and allows its soundtrack to be kind of good. Besides some seemingly authentic (but most likely not) Christian rock, it features a few secular songs with the G- or J-words in them, such as Santana’s “Jesus Is Just Alright” and, believe it or not, the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” covered by Mandy Moore and Michael Stipe, who also served as producer. Similarly, the amount of sincerity and respect with which co-writer and director Brian Dannelly treats not only the film’s soundtrack, but also its genre, its characters and its intended audience is also refreshing — so much so that the fact that Saved! is a damned funny movie seems almost like a bonus.

In Saved!, an American Eagle Christian High School student named Mary (Jena Malone) who gets impregnated by her gay boyfriend (Chad Faust) and then proceeds to hide it from her friends and family over the course of the school year. The story occasionally wanders away from Mary and her pregnancy to concentrate on her mother’s flirtation with married-but-separated Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan) and wheelchair-bound Roland’s (Macaulay Culkin) blossoming relationship with the school’s Jewish hellion (Eva Amurri), as well as throw-away bits like Mary and her mother Lillian (Mary-Louise Parker) seeing a TV promo for a cancer movie starring Valerie Bertinelli (as herself) on Lifetime. (Mary-Louise Parker’s “Oh, that looks good” is hilariously sincere.) Somewhere in there, the filmmakers manage to squeeze in Patrick Fugit (Almost Famous), who provides a likeable enough romantic interest as a straight boy (Pastor Skip’s son, naturally) who Mary becomes interested in through the course of the school year, despite the obvious weirdness. The various threads all come together on prom night, of course, because this is still a high school movie after all; that’s how it’s supposed to happen.

Saved! never seriously questions faith itself any more than your typical episode of 7th Heaven, and it’s simply misguided to expect it to — you don’t walk into a Christian bookstore and look for Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian. Decidedly more on the level of, say, Mean Girls (minus the PG-13 T&A) than Election as high school satires go, Saved! is a surprisingly intelligent and even occasionally subtle movie that is, in every respect except for its Christian school setting, a by-the-numbers teen comedy: relatively flat characters, derivative plot and all. But I don’t mean that in a bad way; in this case, the flatness of the characters and predictable plot, help in some ways to underscore the film’s general message, which is clearly targeted much more towards believers than non-believers. Saved! is a terrific example of how the use of stereotypical characters and stock plots can be effectively handled (at least when the stereotypes used are at least somewhat rooted in reality, and from my own experiences being a part of a Christian youth group in my early teens, Saved!’s “Jesus freak” characters are definitely not wholly fiction; in fact, I would say the self-righteousness and condescension depicted in Saved! is a little mild compared to the beliefs of most evangelical Christians). The characters’ Christianity is occasionally played for laughs (yes, there is a “missionary position” joke in the movie) but their Christianity itself is never the butt of a joke, even though some specific few of their more misguided beliefs are fair game, most prominently their attitudes towards other religions (“heathens”) and homosexuality (“faggotry”).

The film has been chastized by some critics for making fun of its Christian characters, and by other critics for not making fun of them enough; both of these viewpoints are way off-base, because although hardcore Bible thumpers won’t agree with me, Saved! is, at its heart, a Christian film. What Saved! isn’t, though, is a fundamentalist Christian film. It recognizes, as Brian Dannelly stated in a recent interview with the Seattle Post Intelligencer, that “evangelical conservatives [have] hijacked the term ‘Christian,’” and that there are some fundamental flaws in their ideas of Christ and of Christianity (not to mention the world around them). But despite the movie-butter-induced visions that other reviewers have had that lead them to believe otherwise, Saved! absolutely does not pass judgment on its characters nor does it hold them up for ridicule the way some close-minded believers have said (and some close-minded non-believers would prefer). It only recognizes that they have a little room for improvement. Every character, even the movie’s closest thing to a villain, Hilary Faye, is implicitly forgiven and redeemed at the end, because that’s what Christianity is all about, not cynicism or hate — at its roots, true Christianity, on a personal level, is just about becoming a better person.

Saved! is playing at Pipers Alley, River East 21 and the Century 12/CineArts 6 in Evanston. Incidentally, Michael O’Sullivan’s review of Saved! for the Washington Post is quite possibly the most ridiculous review I’ve read of this film.

Review: Tangled

Directed by Byron Howard and Nathan Greno.
Written by Dan Fogelman.
Starring Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, Donna Murphy, Ron Perlman, M.C. Gainey, Jeffrey Tambor, and Brad Garrett.

I know, Tangled has been out for a while, but while I thought the trailers looked amusing, I didn’t really expect to see what I think of as the first Disney classic since the three-peat of Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. That statement will chafe fans of The Lion King or Lilo & Stitch (and I absolutely adore Lilo & Stitch); it’s not to say, necessarily, that Tangled is better than all of those films, just that something about those films lacked the fantastical, fairy tale setting that I associate with “classic Disney.” (To further qualify that statement, I’ve skipped several Disney animated features after the disappointing Pocahontas.)

It’s more than just setting, though: Tangled‘s songs are — for the first time since The Little Mermaid and Beauty & the Beast — truly good, not just serviceable. Composer Alan Menken has found a fantastic new collaborator in lyricist Glenn Slater; none of Menken’s Disney efforts since the death of Howard Ashman quite recaptured that same Disney magic like Slater and Menken do in Tangled.

The leads — Mandy Moore’s Rapunzel and Zachary Levi’s Flynn Rider — are endearing and memorable, and yet very much in the classic Disney mold. Moore (who impressed me in both Saved! and Dedication) is utterly irresistible as Rapunzel, played as an infectiously excitable almost-18 year old girl who seems very much like the classic Disney princess… hopped up on Red Bull. If she comes off a bit extreme, it’s only appropriate: where Ariel and Belle were girls confined by their parents or their “small provincial town” their whole lives, Rapunzel grew up in one building for as long as she can remember.

Despite all of this rekindling of the old Disney magic, though, Tangled manages to feel fresh and modern. Perhaps most impressively, it does it earnestly, without that grating snarky attitude of the Shrek movies — that feeling of superiority over its own subject matter — that has come to mean (at least with me) “we know this isn’t really that great, but if we pretend we’re just kidding around and stick in some fart jokes and pop songs, you might fall for it.”

I groaned (while smiling) at a couple of silly jokes, but the film simply never hits a false note. The handful of brief action sequences are tremendously fun, the pacing is fast and smooth, and it tugs at the heartstrings a couple of times — perhaps not so forcefully as either Toy Story 3 or How to Train Your Dragon did earlier this year, but with no less skill. Despite its middling performance at the box office, this Rapunzel will soon secure her place in Disney’s princess pantheon — and it will be well-deserved.

See it while you still can, or keep your eye out for the DVD.

I didn't mention it in my review, but the animation is gorgeous, and the 3D is very well-used.

Tangled is rated PG for “brief, mild violence,” apparently. I wouldn’t have guessed it, myself. It’s a totally kid-friendly flick.