He’s the singer in a famous rock band. She’s a squeaky-clean pop starlet.
From opposite sides of the musical spectrum, R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe and fresh-faced youngster Mandy Moore have joined forces to find religion.
Or, more precisely, Stipe has produced a high-school comedy feature called “Saved!”, starring Moore as a zealous Christian whose idea of Halloween fun is to distribute religious tracts instead of candy.
The United Artists film, which opened in select U.S. cities Friday, offers an alternative view of the well-worn teen genre from the perspective of “Jesus-centric” kids at a Christian school in suburban Baltimore.
When a “good girl,” played by Jena Malone, gets pregnant during an ill-fated attempt to cure her boyfriend of his homosexuality, it ultimately causes the youngsters to question the morals handed down by their parents and teachers.
For maybe the first time in her 20 years, Moore plays a villain, driven to increasingly desperate measures to defend the faith. It’s not a pretty depiction, but everyone associated with the film is careful to say that the film is primarily a comedy and does not ridicule religion.
“I would not work on a film that I thought might insult the people in my life,” Stipe, who comes from a long line of church ministers, told Reuters. “I think it challenges certain ideas that are put forward. But anyone, Christian or otherwise, I believe, who is secure enough in their beliefs, who can laugh at themselves, they will like this movie.”
Perfect timingBesides Moore and Malone, the young ensemble cast includes Macaulay Culkin, as the wheelchair-bound brother of Moore’s character; Eva Amurri, as his hellraising girlfriend, the sole Jew at American Eagle Christian High School; and Patrick Fugit as a holy skateboarder.
Stipe produced the $5 million movie with Sandy Stern, his partner in Single Cell Pictures. Together, they produced the 1999 cult hit “Being John Malkovich.” “Saved!” was directed by Brian Dannelly, who wrote the script with Michael Urban.
Teen movies come and go with numbing regularity, but the latest entrant, “Mean Girls,” has been a big hit. And Jesus has had a good year at the box office, thanks to Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.”
Throw in such pre-election issues as gay marriage and media indecency, and “if there was ever a time for this movie to be launched into the world, it’s kinda perfect that it’s right now,” says Stern.
It’s also good timing for Moore, who played nice girls in studio efforts like “A Walk to Remember” and “Chasing Liberty.” Now she’s starting a new page in her life. She recently changed record labels, split with tennis star boyfriend Andy Roddick, and discovered independent cinema. She just finished shooting a musical for director John Turturro, “Romance & Cigarettes,” with a cast including James Gandolfini and Steve Buscemi.
Moore says teens are sick of “cookie-cutter, vanilla films that are saying the same things over and over again. We really want something a little edgier and smarter and darker.”
And funnier. Moore injected her character with enough humanity to make her sympathetic, even when she angrily tosses a bible at Malone’s character and declares, “I am filled with Christ’s love!”
“She has great comic timing,” says Dannelly.
“I am so NOT funny,” countered Moore, crediting the script for making it easy for her to play such an unpleasant person.
“I don’t know what that says about me, because it wasn’t that hard. What does that mean? Am I really a bad person?”