Clueless in Hollywood
Movie moguls still can't figure out religion.


Anyone who’s concerned that Hollywood is perpetuating the divide between “Red” and “Blue” America by ignoring the concerns of tens of millions of evangelical and conservative Catholic moviegoers might be reassured to learn that the success of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ has encouraged film producers to make more movies that will appeal to Christian audiences. Unfortunately, as the New York Times reports, producers are uncertain about what kinds of movies will appeal to such audiences.

A first effort in this regard suggests that Hollywood still has a good deal to learn. On May 28, Saved, described as a “small, irreverent comedy” starring Mandy Moore and Macaulay Caulkin, will open in selected theaters. The movie (begun before the success of Gibson’s film) is set in an evangelical Christian school in Maryland “where ‘Jesus loves you’ is a mantra–and an order.” The film features a teenage romance in which a girl becomes pregnant as a consequence of trying to save her boyfriend from damnation as a homosexual. Meanwhile, her mother, a widow, while working to get “right with God,” has an affair with the school’s handsome and “hip” leader, Pastor Skip (who is “given to complimenting his students on being ‘phat’”). Moore plays a schoolgirl depicted as “an overzealous do-gooder who ends up framing others for her crime in her eagerness to convert the unconvinced.”

Although religious leaders invited to an advance screening were reported to have “mixed opinions” about the film, a gay audience loved it. Peter Adee, president of worldwide marketing at MGM, described Saved as having “a certain Christian appeal,” despite its “irreverence,” because it has “a pure Christian message in the middle, which is tolerant.” In Hollywood’s eyes, the “message” of Christianity is reducible to its own favored doctrine, which is always tolerance. And Christians are in principle capable of living up to that message–even if they frequently fall victim to hypocrisy and “overzealousness.” (As for those who insist on proselytizing on behalf of some more demanding view of people’s duties to God and their fellow men–well, they are kind of hard to tolerate, aren’t they?)

Because Saved was developed before the surprise success of The Passion, its producers had a lot of trouble finding financing, given the fear that religious themes turn off audiences. In an effort to market the film, MGM executives are now trying what they call the “Hail Mary” [!] approach, “throwing every possible hook into the advertising and publicity” while “working especially hard to reach the Christian audience that turned out for ‘The Passion of Christ.’”

The thought of MGM moguls hoping to draw Christian audiences to a film portraying evangelical high schools as hotbeds of promiscuity, crime, and cover-ups sounds like a takeoff on the plot of The Producers. Come to think of it, Hollywood even supplied the title for such a film with another high-school comedy a few years back: Clueless.

David Lewis Schaefer is professor of political science at Holy Cross College.


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