Review Date:
Director: Brian Dannelly
Writer: Brian Dannelly, Michael Urban
Producers: Michael Stipe, Sandy Stern
Jena Malone as Mary
Mandy Moore as Hilary
Macauley Culkin as Roland
A Christian girl attending a very Christian high school is shocked to find that her boyfriend might be gay and attempts to “help” him in various ways, including one that includes her vagina and his penis in it. One unwanted pregnancy later, the girl attempts to hide her secret from her “Christian Jewel” friends, her mother and the high school principal, but it isn’t long before damnation hits the fan and everyone and their bible is out to tell everyone else what to do. Sounds like my life in a nutshell…except for the vagina and the bible parts. The comedic bashing of Christians ensues?
A unique “teen flick” focusing on a specific uber-Christian high school with uber-Christian kids who believe that all in the bible is to be taken literally and that Jesus Christ “saves” and that there should be no sex before marriage and that gays are bad and all that other malarkey. Actually, that’s not fair. I’m sure the right-wing Christians have as much positive points as negative, but this film wouldn’t be a comedy unless it concentrated on the rather over-the-top goofiness of those who follow any particular religion a little too, well…religiously, and presents us with plenty of political incorrectness (the whole “Virgin Mary” theory is a scorcher, but funny), moral pokes and the inherent hypocrisies skewered through the lives of these somewhat cult-like folks. I’m not a religious person myself, so I was able to enjoy these stabs and the handful of extremely out-of-line, but hilarious, one-liners-including pretty much anything coming out of the Christian school’s principal’s mouth. The man tries to appeal to the younger kids by speaking their language, which nowadays, is apparently “hip-hop”, chiming in with such notables as “Who’s down with the G-O-D?” and “Are you ready to get your Jesus on?” and chants of “Jesus rules, Jesus rules!!” Wow, if Christianity was that much fun when I was a little nerd, maybe I would have paid more attention in church. The film isn’t solely about that though, integrating a number of young characters around the central, most interesting figure, played soundly by Jenna Malone.

I liked all of the performances in this film, particularly the smaller parts filled nicely by Macauley Culkin and Eva Amurri (Susan Sarandon’s daughter in real life), as the only Jewish girl in the school. It’s also nice to see Mandy Moore finally take on a role different from the generic “cute girl who wants the boy” that she’s been punching in for her past few flicks, with an over-the-top Christian cheerleader type who wants nothing more than to convert every single person to Jesus’ words. Her character was actually the only one who was a little too one-dimensional for my taste, but Moore is as photogenic and hot as ever here (Moore + short skirts = fun times), so I was able to get past her character’s lack of true dimension. Malone also makes up for it with a better rounded character, who along with Patrick Fugit, and even her mom, Mary-Louise Parker, deliver an interesting mélange of folks all attempting to deal with the restrictions of their religion, while at the same time…trying to live a “full” life. As shown in the film’s ultimate climax, perhaps the “black & white” approach to religion and its practical uses in our own lives isn’t something that can truly work in our day and age. That said, the film’s conclusion felt a little “forced” and seemed to tie things together way too nicely, but at the same time, I’m more than overjoyed to watch a movie that isn’t just another remake or rehash of an idea that’s been done a zillion times to death. To that end, I really appreciated the utter originality squeezed into this one, for which alone, I would recommend that you check it out.

The kids’ performances are also well handled across the board, as is the balance between light fare, black comedy (“When Jesus closes a door, he opens a window– for you to take a flying leap!”) and drama. I don’t think too many purebred Christian folk will appreciate the exaggerated humor in this film, but then again, what the shit do I know? One interesting thing to note is that despite the film being based around a teen pregnancy, not once is the word “abortion” uttered or even referred to. I found that to be strange.

(c) 2021 Berge Garabedian