R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Brian Dannelly
scr Brian Dannelly, Michael Urban
with Jena Malone, Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin, Patrick Fugit, Eva Amurri, Martin Donovan, Mary-Louise Parker, Heather Matarazzo, Elizabeth Thai, Chad Faust, Kett Turton, Valerie Bertinelli
release US 28.May.04, UK 29.Oct.04
United Artists
04/US 1h32

Saved and confused: Amurri, Malone and Culkin

malone moore culkin
fugit amurri donovan
Saved Support Shadows: Buy a Poster
There's a sharp, knowing tone to this film that will perhaps be lost on audiences unfamiliar with the American Christian subculture. Outsiders might think this is a spoof or a satire, but it's actually an astute and telling black comedy that tells it exactly like it is and draws out some strong emotional resonance along the way.

Mary (Malone) is a good Christian girl in Baltimore, leading the Christian Jewels worship band with her forceful best friend Hilary Faye (Moore) and two hangers-on (Matarazzo and Thai). When her perfect boyfriend (Faust) tells her he's gay, she believes Jesus wants her to help heal him ... but she ends up pregnant while he's sent to a counselling centre! Now she has a deep, dark secret she can't tell anyone--not even the school bad girl (Amurri), Hilary Faye's sardonic wheelchair-bound brother (Culkin), Mary's good-Christian mother (Parker), the almost too-cool Pastor Skip (Donovan) or Skip's open-minded son (Fugit).

This is a story about people so ingrown that they can't even begin to understand anything outside--they go to Christian schools and shops, watch Christian TV, listen to Christian music, play Christian sports and have Christian jobs. Life is black and white; there's no room for moral ambiguity. Even the rebellious kids have settled into a predictable pattern of shocking those around them. But as the film progresses, each character is forced to examine the ideas they are so sure of. And to rediscover true faith.

Beneath the lurid and often wacky surface, this is a surprisingly serious film that's superbly well-written. Each character is defined and played with subtle complexity despite the initial broad stereotypes. Director-cowriter Dannelly is punching a hole in smug religiosity without attacking these people; he and cowriter Urban obviously know exactly what they're talking about! And those of us who share this background will find ourselves laughing raucously from start to finish while also recognising the powerful truth inside the story. To wider audiences it might seem like a silly and thin parody of American Christian fundamentalism. But it's much more than that!

cert 12 themes, language, innuendo 24.Jun.04

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2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall