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To Save a Life
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
- Parents say
- Kids say
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?
- In theaters: January 22, 2010
- On DVD or streaming: August 2, 2010
- Cast: Deja Kreutzberg, Randy Wayne, Sean Michael
- Director: Brian Baugh
- Studio: New Song Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 120 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: mature thematic elements involving teen suicide, teen drinking, some drug content, disturbing images and sexuality
For kids who love complex characters
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.