Rating 3½

Directed by Brian Dannelly

Written by Brian Dannelly and Michael Urban

Starring Jena Malone,
Mandy Moore, Mary-Louise Parker, Macaulay Culkin, Eva Amurri, Patrick Fugit and Martin Donovan

Prayer works, it’s been medically proven.”

This film was recommended to me and I am glad I listened. I enjoyed it very much. It’s a comedy satire, not unlike ‘Mean Girls’, but this one is set in a Fundamentalist Christian High School.

Mary (the excellent Jena Malone) is one of the “Christian Jewels”, an in-crowd of senior girls led by Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore). When Mary discovers that her boyfriend Dean is gay she has sex with him, believing that it is the will of Jesus that she should do so to “cure” him, and that afterwards her “spiritual and emotional virginity” will be restored. Instead, she becomes pregnant.

Although she is initially able to hide her pregnancy, Mary begins to question her faith and starts to see the hypocrisy present in the holier than thou attitude of Hilary Faye. She increasingly becomes an outsider and is befriended by Cassandra (Eva Amurri), the school rebel who constantly pushes the boundaries of behaviour acceptable within the system. Roland (Macaulay Culkin), the wheelchair-bound brother of Hilary Faye, also begins to hang with Cassandra, as he breaks free of the smothering and self-serving attentions of his sister.

The film is very funny, with some wonderful one-liners. In one scene, Mary picks up a bible that has been thrown at her by Hilary Faye, telling her, “This is not a weapon!” It also successfully treads a fine line in its message. Rather like ‘Galaxy Quest’, it displays a genuine affection for the thing it satires and lampoons. Although it makes some very pertinent comments about the nature of religious belief and the dangers inherent in the interpretation of its teachings, it never takes an aggressively anti-Christian stance, quite the opposite, in fact. The ending could be dismissed as a rather trite cop-out, but I thought it worked rather nicely.

Deliberate or otherwise, it was a nice touch to have the band at the prom perform ‘We’ll Inherit The Earth’, a song by The Replacements, who were surely as debauched as it is possible to get!

Jena Malone has been excellent in everything I have seen her in and is no different here. Mandy Moore is terrific. She apparently took over the role from Anne Hathaway and I am glad she did so. She really is very good. I was never impressed by Macaulay Culkin in his “child star” days, especially in the horrendous ‘Home Alone’ films, but I was pleasantly surprised by his performance here. I like Mary-Louise Parker and she works well with Malone as mother and daughter.

I am not sure what audience the film hoped to attract. I cannot imagine it would have been well received by Christian groups in America, while others would probably argue that it didn’t go far enough in its deconstruction of fundamentalist beliefs.

In the end, all I can say is that I liked it and I would pass on the recommendation originally made to me to watch it.

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