To Save a Life

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
To Save a Life Movie Poster Image
Message-heavy teen drama with iffy behavior, dark themes.
  • PG-13
  • 2010
  • 120 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 28 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 32 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive messages

Despite some pretty iffy behavior by some of the characters, the movie ultimately makes the point that no one's perfect, and everyone experiences moments to be proud of and not so proud of. Teens will also take away the message that striving to be a better person and encouraging others to do the same are noble goals that should be supported by others.

Positive role models & representations

Although main character Jake isn't perfect -- he parties too much, passively witnesses others get bullied (a popular jock invites a kid to a party for the sole purpose of making fun of him and later ridicules a student because he’s exploring his faith, etc.), shuns a lifelong friend, and doesn’t seem to have focus -- he's clearly searching for answers and meaning. A Christian youth group leader helps guide his way, and, at some point, Jake decides his pastimes are no longer much fun. But the metamorphosis doesn’t easily stick, and Jake sometimes lashes out at others.

Violence

A student smuggles a gun into school, fires warning shots, and then kills himself with it. Two characters punch each other. One character deals with the pressures of growing up by cutting himself.

Sex

A teen couple is seen pawing each other in the dark. Sex is hinted at: A guy is shown pulling up his pants while a girl zips up her dress. A teen gets pregnant and agonizes over what to do about it.

Language

"Damn" is about it.

Consumerism
Drinking, drugs & smoking

Kids pass around a joint outside school. A house full of underage teens drink -- downing shots and guzzling what appear to be alcoholic beverages out of red plastic cups. At one party, two guys play beer pong, drinking in excess. A man drinks alone after his wife leaves him because he’s unfaithful. A kid attempts to kill himself with pills.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that although this Christian-themed drama has tons of heart, it gets a little heavy-handed. Teens engage in all sorts of stereotypically “troubled” behavior -- including drinking, drug use, premarital sex, bullying, and cutting. But the movie's ultimate message -- that this behavior is negative and has consequences -- comes through loud and clear. While it's not particularly graphic, there's one disturbing scene in which an important character brings a firearm to school and then uses it on himself. Production company New Song Pictures is a division of New Song Community Church in Vista, Calif.

User Reviews

Adult Written byjoeyconnick March 3, 2010

Appalling and dangerous

This movie is appallingly bad, a series of afterschool special cliches that are crowded together as an excuse to proselytize for the purportedly redemptive powe...
Adult Written byTopDog65 April 11, 2011

Take Responsibilty

To Save A Life is a Good movie for teen entering high school as it gives a fairly realistic overview of the pitfalls they will face. Depression, suicide, bull...
Teen, 13 years old Written byhunterjumper99 June 17, 2012

Don't judge a book by its cover

This review is just judgemental and ignorant. The people on this site rate anything that is about suicide or bullying to an older audience but middle schoolers...
Teen, 14 years old Written byJadenp April 4, 2011

Great, emotionally intense movie. Iffy stuff throughout.

Suggested MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving teen suicide, teen drinking/partying, drug use, disturbing images, sexuality, and language....

What's the story?

After his childhood best friend, Roger (Robert Bailey, Jr.) -- who once saved his life and whom he abandoned in pursuit of popularity -- kills himself at school, Jake (Randy Wayne) grows listless and unfocused. A popular high school senior, he no longer finds joy in the partying that has occupied his social life. He wants to understand Roger’s motivation and longs for some peace. But getting that isn’t easy: His friends and girlfriend don’t understand why he’s so tortured and won’t drink anymore and why he’s drawn to the church. But embracing a Christian life doesn’t come easily, either.

Is it any good?

A youth pastor pleads for his flock not to be judgmental in one pivotal scene, but TO SAVE A LIFE is smothered by heavy-handedness. It means well, but it tries too hard to drive home its message, making for an awkwardly told tale. Solutions to teen angst are simplistic, like when high-schoolers decide to get opposing groups together by sitting in the school yard and inviting everyone to join. In another scene, a neighbor invites a senior to stop in for cookies (!) after he helps her with her groceries. The film heaps problem after problem on the shoulders of troubled characters as if they’re being punished for their supposedly rudderless lives. Plus, the ending’s pat. And the villains? They’re bad to the (stereotypical) bone.

But some moments ring with authenticity -- Jake’s struggle to make sense of Roger’s devastating act, for one, and his reunion with Roger’s mother after a long estrangement. One boy’s sweetly dorky way of asking a girl out comes across as charming. And a pastor’s explanation of how God and faith figure in one’s life is refreshingly complex, tinted with a few shades of gray. Still, the film never quite rises above its afterschool-special vibe.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what drives Jake to change. Why did he dump his friendship with Roger in the first place? What was the payoff? And why does Roger’s death trigger his soul-searching?

  • Is this a message movie? If so, how does it deliver that message?

  • Parents, talk with your teens about the real-life consequences of behavior like underage drinking and sex. What do the characters in the movie learn about these topics? Are they realistic lessons?

Movie details

For kids who love complex characters

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