At the beginning of the film, Mary (Jena Malone) has “been Born Again [her] whole life.” She is beginning her senior year at American Eagle Christian High School near Baltimore, where she is a member of the Christian Jewels – a “girl band for Jesus” – with her Fundamentalist Christian friends Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore) and Veronica (Elizabeth Thai). She also has a “perfect Christian boyfriend”, named Dean (Chad Faust).
Two weeks before summer vacation ended, Mary was playing a game with Dean where they would tell each other secrets underwater. On his turn, Dean says that he thinks he’s gay. Mary, shocked by an obviously unexpected revelation, hits her head on the pool’s ladder when she resurfaces. A builder working nearby immediately jumps in to save her after Dean slips on the tiles. While being rescued, Mary has a vision in which Jesus says that Dean needs her, and that she must do all she can to help him.
Mary tries to help Dean by getting him to do more heterosexual acts, such as kissing her and squeezing her breasts, but they don’t seem to make much headway. Hoping for a sign, Mary goes to the shooting range with Hilary Faye, who has “a spiritual solution for everything.” Hilary Faye talks about how Christian girls need to protect themselves; but if all else fails, Jesus could still restore their “spiritual and emotional virginity.” Mary then believes that if she were to lose her virginity trying to save Dean, Jesus would make her pure again.
Despite Mary’s efforts, on the first day of school, when she and the other Jewelsstop by his house to pick him up, Dean’s parents reveal that they found gay pornography under Dean’s bed and that he is on his way to Mercy House, a Christian treatment center. Mary tells her friends andHilary Faye’s wheelchair-bound, cynical brother Roland (Macaulay Culkin) about Dean’s homosexuality. After receiving a horrified response, she makes them promise to keep it secret.
As they get to school, Cassandra, (Eva Amurri), the only Jewish person at the school and a rebel against the school’s belief and disciplinary systems, establishes her dislike of Hilary Faye by throwing a cigarette at her. In homeroom, Mary also meets Patrick (Patrick Fugit), a skateboarder and the son of Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan), who has recently been with his mother in South America doing missionary work. Mary is immediately attracted to Patrick, thinking that he is the only boy at school who didn’t look like a NASA employee.
But soon after, Mary learns that she is pregnant via a home pregnancy test. Doubting the results, she heads to Planned Parenthood, where she is spotted by Roland and Cassandra, who are sitting sharing cigarettes nearby. Their shared cynicism and black humour is causing them to bond romantically despite Roland being Hilary Faye’s brother. Mary finds out that she will have the baby after graduation and her birthday, so the good news would be that she will not have to go to Mercy House or give up her baby if nobody finds out before the birth.
Nevertheless, Mary loses faith in Christianity, which causes her to be rapidly ostracized by Hilary Faye and her other friends, who as such fortunately do not know about her pregnancy. The Jewels quickly replace her with a previously unknown girl, Tia (Heather Matarazzo), whose ambition of being part of the most popular clique in the school is fulfilled. Pastor Skip asks the Jewels to help Mary regain her faith, which to them means trying to kidnap and exorcise her. Following a botched exorcism, Mary runs into Patrick on her way home. He offers her a ride home and asks her out, to which she responds that she is not dating right now.
While at school for Christmas, no one has noticed that she is pregnant except for Cassandra and Roland, having seen her leave Planned Parenthood. For that reason Cassandra teases her by making suggestive gestures with a paper airplane and her fingers. Mary, worn out by the way her life is heading, goes into the bathroom and breaks into sobs. Cassandra comes in and confronts Mary about whether she is really pregnant. A broken Mary confirms her pregnancy. At this point, Cassandra is revealed to have a softer side to her nature. Realizing what state Mary is in, she begins to bond with the confused and lonely girl. They ditch the rest of school and go maternity shopping with Hilary Faye’s credit card along with Roland. The group later run into Patrick and Hilary Faye. Pretending to want to get saved, Cassandra distracts Hilary Faye while Mary and Patrick slip away. They almost kiss but end up not doing so. The next day, Cassandra sticks a piece of rotten bacon in Hilary Faye’s locker which causes a stench so bad around the area that Hilary Faye covers her face. Mary is overjoyed when she finds out that she is going to have a little girl.
On Valentine’s Day Mary debates giving Patrick the Valentine she made, and gives up when Hilary Faye gives him one, though afterwards she finds one from Patrick in her locker. In that scene it is also revealed that Pastor Skip is not fond of Patrick dating Mary but is nevertheless dating Mary’s mom, Lillian (Mary-Louise Parker), unknown to either of the kids, showing that the Pastor is somewhat of a hypocrite.
On Easter Sunday, a school presentation is given with Patrick doing a reenactment of Christ dying on the cross. Afterwards, Hilary Faye tries inviting Cassandra and Mary to join them for lunch. Cassandra and Mary turn the request down, and a potshot from Hilary results in a fight. Roland then lets his friends in on a secret about his sister, and shows them a picture of an ugly Hilary Faye when she was a little girl. The next day at school Cassandra and Hilary Faye clash again. Hilary Faye reports them to Pastor Skip, who puts them on the prom committee–chaired by Hilary Faye–as a punishment. Later that day in computer class, the ugly picture of Hilary Faye as a child winds up as the wallpaper of the desktops of the system. Hilary Faye is humiliated and tries to tell Pastor Skip that Cassandra and Mary are responsible, but he says she has no evidence. That night Hilary Faye prays to God to show her how to get back at the outcasts.
The next day, someone has sprayed Satanic graffiti on the school overnight. Mary and Cassandra are automatically suspected given their nonconformist status. Spray paint cans are found in their lockers. Cassandra is expelled, but it is unclear what happens to Mary. In the midst of the search in Mary’s locker Mary’s sonogram is seen by a teacher, who decides not to tell on Mary and hides it in her folder. The teacher says nothing is there to Pastor Skip, but accidentally drops the sonogram on the floor, revealing Mary’s pregnancy. Hilary Faye and the other Christian Jewels are watching from an upstairs balcony and see the sonogram. Murmuring that she is she pregnant, then saying that they can’t believe they were friends with Mary, they look on as Mary collapses with shock at her secret being found out. Roland sees them and confronts his sister: “You have everything Hilary Faye. What are you afraid of?” Pastor Skip insists that Mary be sent to Mercy House, or else he will break off the relationship with Lillian. After giving it some serious thought, Lillian decides to send Mary away on the grounds that the girl is too young, the baby needs a father and a mother, and it would ruin Mary’s life, but the real reason is she doesn’t want to break up with Pastor Skip. This causes a fight with Mary, who suspects the real reason.
Cassandra and Roland set up a plan where they get Mary a dress for prom night and get Patrick there to take her as his date, while they themselves will go together as dates. Mary is touched by their action, and the two couples head back to the school bursting with confidence. At the prom, Hilary Faye attempts to denounce them for having returned uninvited and publicly accuses Mary andCassandra to have spray-painted the school. But Roland has got something with him- her credit card statement, which shows the purchase of the spray paint. This evidence is not sufficient to Pastor Skip, saying that anyone could have purchased the spraypaint with the card, however. Knowing Hilary Faye’s weak point, Cassandra asks her to swear publicly before God that she did not do it, which should not be hard if she is innocent. At first the fundamentalist Hilary Faye is incapable of doing it, but caves in to swear so as to save face. But Tia, disillusioned about her Jewel membership and fed up with Hilary Faye’s authoritarianism and snobbiness, pulls out a signed receipt for the paint used to vandalize the school which she found in Hilary Faye’s van, thus exposing her guilt to the entire school. In a fit of rage over being exposed as a hypocrite, Hilary Faye flees the room. As Mary, Patrick and the Pastor try to pursue her, Dean and the others from Mercy House show up there after swiping the program’s van. Dean finds out Mary is pregnant, news which he manages to receive well. Pastor Skip demands that Dean and company return themselves to Mercy House, telling Dean that he isn’t welcome at American Eagle because he is gay. Dean responds that Jesus still loves him even though he is gay. Mary, worn out by the events of the evening, confronts the Pastor telling him nobody is perfect- not even him, so why should God love only those who are perfect? An uncomfortable silence is interrupted as Hilary Faye crashes her van into the school’s effigy of Jesus, cursing him for having led her in the wrong direction. Realizing what she has done, Hilary Faye breaks down andhas to be led away by Roland andCassandra. She asks Roland if Jesus still loves her, to which he answers probably not, but then magnanimously says “Yeah, sure.” Mary abruptly goes into labor and has to be led off to hospital.
The movie concludes with Mary and Dean’s baby girl being born and Dean run’s out andannounces “she’s perfect.” Lillian, Patrick, Dean, Roland, Cassandra andDean’s boyfriend Mitch enter the room to offer her their moral support, while the troubled Skip waits outside holding some flowers (presumably for Mary) debating whether to come inside. Mary’s voice-over tells the audience how she changed her mind and went back to believing in God, a God who loves and helps those that love and help others in need. The assembled friends in the room have a picture of themselves taken, a true community that can always count on one another and not fear ostracization.
Independent film never seem to do well at the box office, yet tend to be some of the best films. This is no exception. I’m sure there are those that will be offended by the religious satire of the film, but they just need to get over themselves. It’s just a movie.
A while back I reviewed Juno, and said that this was the better teen pregnancy film. After finally getting the chance to watch it again, I stand by that statement, but both films have their audience.
We all know people that take their religion a bit on the serious side, this film just takes that to a whole new level, especially since its set at a Christian school.
The case is excellent and Mandy Moore is extremely unlikable in her role as Hilary Faye. Jena Maolne should get more leading roles and Mary-Louise Parker is as beautiful as ever. Macauley Culkin has grown into his own as an actor.
If I have any issues with the film, it is that there isn’t enough development of the relationship between Pastor Skip and his son and the other Christian Jewels seem to be forgotten until one of the final scenes when they turn on Hilary Faye. Those are just my personal beefs, though.
So, I suggest you give this a viewing. There’s something for everyone. However, I do warn those of you that are easily offended, to steer clear, as the religious satire may agitate you.
4 out of 5 stars