Add another one to the “What is this?” file. Unwrapping some of these movies from their bubble mailer prisons and then gazing upon their covers has stirred up a whole series of emotions in the past, but with this one my first thought was “is this a movie about surfers or something? The cover is so vague and colorful.” Reading into it I found out it was an “American Christian drama,” which didn’t really put me off of it but it did admittedly lower my expectations even more. Not that I really have anything against the genre, but I don’t like watching country or rap films either—they just aren’t my forte. Still, the film did enjoy some moderate success, raking in nearly $4 million dollars—considering it opened in fewer than 450 theaters and was made for half a million, I’d say it did alright for itself.
Jake is the most popular kid in school and has a promising future, but his world is rocked when tragedy strikes his childhood best friend. Now Jake is forced to ask “Could I have saved him?” With help from a few new friends, he embarks on a journey to live a life of purpose, knocking down the sacred social barriers of high school life and befriending a loner, Johnny Garcia. But When Johnny’s life soon spiral’s out of control, will Jake have what it takes to stop him from the same tragic end? Can one person really make a difference?
I had to kind of laugh at reviews and stories about this film as I researched it online. Apparently director Brian Baugh was surprised by the scripts “grittiness.” Granted it does boast an array of teenage no-no’s, such as drinking, cutting, cursing and scenes of teens getting it on, but if you take a step back and look at it that’s only shocking if you haven’t seen a film involving teens since the 70s. I’m not sure what exactly this film, being a “American Christian drama,” is trying to accomplish by throwing in such things. I mean, yes, it makes it more realistic and provides a platform for parents to discuss such things with their teens…but there is a very, very real chance that if you’re a teen then watching this movie at all is a farfetched idea. It’s just one of those things you’re actually embarrassed to be watching and, regardless of your religion, it’s embarrassingly obvious how blunt they are being with the subject matter in this film.
Let’s take the main story point of the film. Jake, our lead, is guilt stricken when his childhood friend brings a gun into school and then kills himself. This is a relatively interesting story point to delve into, only it focuses on his guilt by completely ignoring his friend and wondering if he could have done more. Rather than figure out how to deal with this, Jake projects his guilt onto a social outcast who he saw cry at a party earlier because he was denied entrance. It’s noble that he attempts to help this guy, but quite frankly unless his childhood friend hadn’t killed himself, he would’ve just kept on ignoring it. The message here, of course, is don’t wait until someone around you commits suicide to be nicer to others. A great moral message, but in terms of making for a coherent or enjoyable film…well, it kind of sucks.
Also sucking in this film is the apparently shallow friends Jake has surrounded himself with, as they all turn on him as he begins to change his ways and starts being nicer to the outcast. It’s all exhibited in the films trailer and I assured myself it wouldn’t be as bad in the actual film but…nope, it was. It was all as awkward and horribly staged/acted as I was lead to believe and for once the trailer truly didn’t lie. I don’t know whether to be happy or sad about that.
Is the film a total wash? Well, for me it was. I mean if I wanted to see a film that was as “edgy” as this when it comes to teen subject matter, I would’ve traveled back to the 70s or 80s when teen drinking and sex was a shocking concept to the cinema. There’s really honestly and truly no reason to watch this film unless you’re a parent and wanting to shoehorn a movie in the place of a conversation starter about being nice to others. I’m not saying that it would be a bad conversation to have, because it absolutely isn’t, but an overly melodramatic movie with mediocre acting is probably the lowest on my list of ways to start that conversation. I’d be more inclined to just say “Hey here’s an option: we talk about it now or we watch this movie and awkwardly discuss it later,” but that’s just me and I’m not a parent so I may not really know what I’m talking about.
Overall this isn’t so much a bad film as it is a very unnecessary one. An “edgy” Christian film is kind of an oxymoron, because there are any number of non-Christian films that can deliver a similar message from years past without upsetting the idea of a Christian film not containing drugs, alcohol or sex. It’s kind of circumventing the whole idea of them, really…but whatever. I guess as they slowly progress into “edgier” territory we’ll end up with Christian films in thirty years that look like the mainstream stuff we’re used to now. A Rental if you absolutely must see a Christian drama, but I’m sure (at least I hope) there are better films out there that get the same message across with a less preachy manner.
Blu-ray? DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio? Bwuh? Why? Oh well, at least this film looked and sounded the absolute best, as pointless as I found it to be. The two-hour (yes, that’s right) film rocks an AVC encoded transfer that looks pretty flawless from beginning to end. There is a lot of detail housed in this image and it quite frankly is quite a beautiful looking transfer to gaze upon. Mixed with the aforementioned audio track we get a very nice mix to go with it, although there is a painfully obvious point in the movie where the dialogue doesn’t match the video…but I don’t think that’s an issue with the transfer as that’s actually a piece of trivia on IMDb’s page for the film.
Deleted Scenes (9:47, 1080p)
Gag Reel (5:58, 1080p)
To Save a Life: Behind the Scenes (12:16, 1080p)
Music Videos (“Bounce” by J-Rus [3:31, 1080p] and “Sunset Cliffs” by Paul Wright [3:18, 1080p])
It’s a pretty light list but the commentary (with director Baugh, writer/co-producer Jim Britts and producers Nicole Franco and Steve Foster) is the highlight of the disc (look at that how you will). There’s a lot of behind the scenes stuff talked about here and if you enjoyed the film you’ll like the track…but I can’t imagine that anyone who watches this film for its moral messages would want to listen to a commentary over it as well. Then again I’m not anywhere near the target audience for this one, so I could just be missing the point entirely.
Overall a Rental disc or just something you can Skip if you’re like me and not really part of the group targeted by this one.
To Save a Life arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on August 3rd.