The cinematic equivilent of one of those promising high school NBA draft picks who enjoys a meteoric rise from modest beginnings then blows out his knee midway through the first season. Meaning: Holy crap, the first two acts of this movie are perfect. Adorable high schooler Mary (Jena Malone), a senior at the evangelical American Eagle school in some Jesusland outpost, has a gorgeous boyfriend named Dean and membership in a hot, musically talented clique called the Christian Jewels (led by Hilary Faye, played by Mandy Moore). While playing a swimming pool game in which they tell each other secrets underwater, Dean tells Mary he’s gay (but he’s an ice skater! Who knew?). Shocked, she hits her head on a water pump and has a vision of Christ telling her to un-gay Dan. She beds him, and thinks that everything’s worked out. The next day she finds out his parents discovered leather man porn under his bed and have sent him to a gay rehabilitation center. A few weeks later, she discovers she’s pregnant. The rest of the movie concerns Mary’s descent from the school’s popular clique to the athiest/Jewish misfit clique, and the love triangle between her, Hilary Faye, and the son of the school’s principal/pastor.
Like I said, the first two-thirds of this unfolds in a hysterical, poignant way, and easily matches up with the best teen movies. Writer/director Brian Dannelly (with Michael Urban) creates five deep, sympathetic main characters and never goes for an obvious joke where black humor can work instead. For example, Mary figures out that she might be pregnant by watching a Lifetime Original Movie in which Valerie Bertinelli gets cancer. Bertinelli is seen tearfully explaining to a friend that she realized she was sick when she was puking in the morning and missing her period, and first thought she might be pregnant. Mary has puked and missed her period. So we see her opening a pregnancy test in the bathroom, muttering “Please be cancer, please be cancer.”
And yet. And yet, the final act completely blows. It really feels like Sid Sheinberg got a hold of the print and decided to add his own idiotic ending, because it feels so different from the rest of the movie. OK, I’ll SPOIL it. Hilary Faye vandalizes the school and frames Mary and her new friends, who are then banned from the prom. They crash the prom with evidence of the framing, but Hilary outsmarts then until one of the new members of her clique reveals that, yes, Hilary framed them. She has a nervous breakdown and destroys the school’s Jesus billboard, while Dean and his new boyfriend break out of the rehab center to go to prom. Mary’s water breaks and the whole happy group visits her and her baby in the hospital.
See? It sucks, and it’s reeeally not well written or edited. A true shame, because the first 2/3 of this movie is highly worth seeing.