Dir: Brian Dannelly, 2004. Starring: Jena Malone, Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin, Patrick Fugit, Eva Amurri. Comedy.

You can’t find someone who is more against the glorification of teenage pregnancy than yours truly. Let’s just downplay that aspect of the movie and focus on all its other awesome parts, and for a brief moment I’ll praise the director and writer for their interesting approach on the matter. If you’re wondering why I steer clear of films like this, let’s just say it's because of those sappy dramas and comedies that show some spoiled middle-class teen who gets knocked up, has a family behind her, and finishes school without a hitch. Movies like Precious are slowly putting a smudge on that crystalline looking-glass we’ve become used to.

In this perfect comedy, we meet a group of teenagers who are coming up on their senior year at a Christian high school. We are following Mary (Jena Malone) in particular. She has it all - a charming and talented boyfriend, a cool mom, and the name of a religious icon. In the summer before senior year, her boyfriend confesses to her that he is gay. Following his confession, she bumps her head and, while in a daze, she sees the image of Jesus who tells her that her boyfriend needs her help. So, like any religious person, she interprets the message of God the best way she can: cure him of his homosexuality.

She tries hard to persuade him with various methods and, while attempting not to sin too much, seems to come to a dead-end. But on one fateful afternoon, she bursts into his room shortly after he has stashed an adult magazine featuring bulky men. She notices his erection and figures that this is her only opportunity to help him and do the work of God, hoping that she can ask for forgiveness after her "good" deed is done. The school year begins and she sets out for a new beginning with her friends, confiding in them about the loss of her virginity. When they arrive at her boyfriend’s house to carpool, his parents inform her that they discovered his magazine and sent him to Mercy House--a place where they "cure" teens of their various sins. So the year has already gotten off to a bad start, but Mary is comforted by her friends. The ringleader of the pack is Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore), who would be anyone’s passive-aggressive enemy. Think Mean Girls….protestant style. Hilary’s efforts to control her life are fueled by the fact that she can use Mary’s secrets against her, and that the rest of the bunch have not been blessed with the same genes and cosmetic knowledge. When not bullying Mary she taunts her crippled brother Roland (Macaulay Culkin), who has become more than comfortable with her ways and simply ignores her.

The current enemy of the girls is Cassandra (Eva Amurri), the only Jewish student at the American Eagle Christian High School. Her foul mouth and chain smoking makes her an easy target for their frequent and fickle attacks of kindness and spite. Pastor Skip’s son Patrick (Patrick Fugit) has just transferred to the school and has caught the eyes of many of the young ladies there. Unlike the other boys, many sporting thick glasses or crew cuts, Patrick is both a devoted Christian as well as a skateboarder with decent taste. He warms up to Mary from a distance and tries to talk to her, while avoiding the catty company she keeps. She slowly begins to distance herself from Hilary and the others, and for a moment things seem to be taking a righteous turn…until she wakes up one day to the joys of morning sickness. Now confused and angry with God for her new condition, she keeps it a secret and separates herself from Christianity. The satirical quest of her trying to find a new religion while hiding her swelling belly is the most rewarding part of the movie. Meanwhile a romance is blooming between her and Patrick, leaving the jealous Hilary to begin viciously plotting against her. Soon she becomes an outcast and befriends Cassandra and Roland, who have started dating. With her new friends she learns to stop letting her surroundings define her and takes control of her happiness and future.

This is not just a movie about a teen who gets knocked up. It’s a story about a group of kids who are confused, God-fearing, and insecure. True, there are members of the school (some of them even outcasts) who still keep their faith, but many whose doubts have a tough time gaining clarity due to the pressure around them from adults and peers. I liked the fact that religion, while being treated with farce, is not looked down upon or praised. Nothing is shoved down the audience's throat, and therefore you can simply take the movie for what it is. The performances from everyone were satisfying, and I have to admit that Mandy Moore’s nuanced performance takes the cake, with Amurri’s role sliding in for a tie. With a quirky cast and dark but clean comedy, this is  something that can reach teenage audiences and adults. Highly Recommended.

Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Aug 27, 2010 5:00pm
Soylent / Amoeba Banner
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