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.

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User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byknuckleheadmom January 16, 2018

Great Film For Teenage Life Choices

A Christian film mostly appropriate for high schoolers. It can be easy to pretend all the issues in the movie don't exist for our children but they absolut... Continue reading
Adult Written bykpianist7 October 1, 2014
Teen, 15 years old Written bybiovox14 December 28, 2016

My favorite movie

This is by far my favorite movie of them all. I love this movie dearly and advise any teenager to watch it. If you think that kids in high school don't act... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old August 23, 2016

Great for most teenagers

This movie is an amazing Christian movie with a wonderful meaning. There is mild language and some suicide, but this movie is great for most teenagers

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

  • 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
  • Last updated: March 14, 2020

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