To Save A Life didn’t suck.
That surprised me a lot. An awful lot. They took the usual Christian movie route but dodged all the potholes. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I think we’re heading in the right direction. Finally. On the other hand, it cost twice what Fireproof cost and made 1/11th as much money (though it turned a profit nonetheless). To Save a Life was honest, truthful, and (in my opinion) not preachy. It was preachy when it was appropriate to be so, and selectively preachy at that.
CHRISTIAN MOVIE POTHOLES DODGED
Jake Taylor starts out as a non-Christian who becomes a Christian after he stops being a jerk.
The youth pastor doesn’t have all the answers
The senior pastor is a jerk, and his kid was “played by Satan” according to some fellow moviegoers.
(From TVTropes) “Any story where a character is converted unnaturally easily to whatever the writer is trying to teach.”
Jake doesn’t become a Christian overnight. He’s just… exploring Christianity. It just so happens that he meets our lovely youth pastor, who tells him to “just visit church” and then manipulates him into coming: “It’s inconvenient for you to come to church? It’s inconvenient for me to pick up drunk kids from parties…” I approved of that moment.
A lot of Christian films go out of their way to make sure to include the words “Accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior” in them. And every time that happens, I cringe. Usually on the outside. But Jake Taylor doesn’t pray to accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior! Not even once! It actually starts to become awkward, like “He’s hanging out with Christians, going to church… is he going to legitimately become a Christian or not!?” They did something new: They made me actually want a character to become a Christian. They made me wait for it. Kudos.
Also, bonus points for the way they show that Jake has become a Christian: the youth pastor baptizes Jake in the ocean as the soundtrack plays lines from my favorite Switchfoot song: “Maybe redemptions has stories to tell, maybe forgiveness is right where you fell…” and I got chills. I got chills watching a Christian movie. That was when I knew this movie didn’t epically suck.
Horrible Awful Unbelievable Characters
Jake is real. The youth pastor can’t answer questions. Jake’s parents fight. Jake and friends drink, and it’s not explicitly condemned. If anything, it actually looks kind of… fun? His dad is a little caricatured, but I’ve had moments with my dad that made Jake’s dad seem realistic, so I believed him.
The only preachy character is, well, the preacher. And he’s allowed, because that’s what he does. But he doesn’t preach what I expected, that we need to accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, or that the reason we have problems is because we’re living our lives badly. Actually, he doesn’t blame Jake’s problems on him not being a good enough person. God knows everybody lives with that condemnation already. And speaking of God…
Jesus Fixes Everything
Jesus doesn’t fix everything. Jake’s life is going along just fine before Jesus. …Except that his best friend growing up commits suicide. After Jesus, Jake’s parents get a divorce, his girlfriend gets pregnant and wants an abortion, and he blows up on a kid from school he was trying to help. How… honest. I was really surprised. The pregnancy is resolved in that she gets an adoption. His blow-up gets fixed. …His parents don’t get back together (or at least I didn’t think so). But his mom starts coming to church.
POINTS OFF FOR…
She’s pretty, and they’re in a long-term relationship, but what the heck? Her over-emotionalism and yelling and screaming and intolerance toward Jake’s interest in Christianity is an embarrassment to high school girls everywhere. The fact that her dad became a Christian “and then left us” helps explain things… a little. But kinda doesn’t. When I told a friend that “even really immature high school girls aren’t that bad,” he disagreed. So maybe no points off.
Stupid Senior Pastor
Let’s be honest here: how the heck did Chris become a youth pastor at this church? When the Senior pastor finally sits Chris down and lectures him about how he doesn’t want that Jake kid who got his girlfriend pregnant “around here,” I just shook my head. “No. No. Not buying this at all.” Your pastor wants that kid gone because his girlfriend is pregnant? Meanwhile your own dumb kid is doing pot and calling in bomb threats to the school on the unpopular kid’s phone? Ummm… sorry, no. But that scene is under a minute. And hey, maybe there are pastors out there who would both hire Chris and want to kick Jake out of the youth group. But I’m still taking off points.
Imperfect Lighting and Sound
Yes, To Save a Life was that good of a Christian film that we’re now actually complaining about the lighting and sound quality. Actually, one of my friends complained about it; it seemed fine to me.
I don’t know. The story was mediocre. Some critics even called it “slow,” or “too long.” I was too busy gripping the back of my seat and hoping not to hit any Christian-movie potholes to pay as close attention to the story as I should’ve to write a good review. It didn’t suck, but it wasn’t awesome, either. It was just… a Christian movie that wasn’t terrible.
THE FINAL SCORE
Bad (-5) – – – – – | x – – – – (+5) Good
All told, To Save a Life crossed the line in Christian movies from Bad to Good. It’s not very far on the good side, but I’m giving it a 1, mostly for Not Being Terrible.
Oh. And I’d be ok with having worked on that film. It gave me hope – hope that I’m not in film school for nothing. Hope that obviously Christian films may be heading in a good direction – a direction of non-suckiness. The standard keeps slipping up.