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“To Save A Life” movie review for youth groups

To Save A Life MovieTwo weeks ago I had the privilege to watch an advanced screening of the movie, To Save A Life. They have a pretty agressive marketing campaign among the Christian community, so you’ve no-doubt heard of it and either dismissed it because it’s a “Christian film” and thought, “Please, no more Kirk Cameron!,” or, like me, you just put it on a back burner due to all the other demands of your time. Here are my thoughts after watching the film:

Plot

The story starts at the grave side of a high school student who committed suicide. A few of his family and friends are present, including Jake Taylor, the high school senior the movie shadows for the next two hours. For a number of reasons, Jake is devastated by the tragedy and, through his search for answers, he meets a youth pastor, Chris, who becomes a trusted friend. As Jake wrestles through issues like popularity, cutting, abortion, sex, divorce, drugs and relationships, his life eventually hits rock bottom. One might expect that this is the point when he turns to Christ, but the story is thankfully a bit more real than that. The truth is, Jake decided to give God a try early in the film and because of that, combined with the consequences of his past mistakes, he hits bottom, thinking that God was supposed to make everything better.

The plot is very heavy for two hours straight and has almost no comic relief. I was craving a break in the tension after about an hour or so, but none came, leaving me pretty emotionally worn out by the end, but fortunately it has a positive ending. A normal Christian film might try to wrap up all the teen issues with an over-simplistic and unbiblical, “Jesus can make your life happy and perfect!” but instead To Save A Life ends with the more realistic, “Life is hard, there are no simple answers, and a relationship with Christ is the only way to navigate it all.”

Quality

The film is surprisingly very well done. I was expecting a lot of cheesy moments from poor acting and churchiness, but the cheese-factor was kept to a minimum. In fact, there’s only one or two places that make you roll your eyes a bit, but even then it’s not big enough to make you laugh or grin.

Overall, the acting was a solid performance. They hired people who have experience in various other films and TV shows, which was probably a good move, regardless of if most of them are unbelievers. In my opinion, a movie that’s professionally done and credible trumps whether or not the actors on the screen actually know Christ or not. Hopefully this film is one that brings them one step closer in that direction!

My only gripe with the acting is that the main character, played by Randy Wayne, had this, “I’m deep in thought” look on his face for the first three-quarters of the movie. Granted, he was thinking through a lot of issues in the film, but a slightly different “deep in thought” face would’ve been nice. After a while, it kinda looked like his face was stuck like that.

His girlfriend in the movie, played by Deja Kreutzberg, did an outstanding job, though. I was thoroughly impressed with her performance despite her more limited film career.

Content

True to it’s marketing hype, the film discusses many teen issues like cutting, suicide, school shootings, abortion, divorce, cliques, drinking, peer pressure, dating, sex, and a lot more. Impressively, none of these issues feel forced into the story — they all feel like a natural part of Jake Taylor’s life and experiences.

However, I would opt to change some of the wording I read in other reviews and promotional pieces: the film doesn’t “deal” with all of these issues as much as it just highlights them and brings attention to how they’re often all integrated. That said, it does give more treatment to some of the issues than others, especially cliques and peer pressure, but I’m not sure I’d say it deals with every issue.

You should also be aware that, although it is a Christian film, it is not overtly so. My impression is that the producer wanted to demonstrate the power of a changed life through Christ without getting too churchy, which is good, but I would’ve liked to see the gospel communicated more clearly at the end. If there was ever a film to pull it off without being weird or tacky about it, this film could’ve done it very successfully. Instead, we just see a glimpse into what a changed life looks like.

The other thing about not being an overtly Christian film is that there is some swearing, an implied sex scene, and some of the normal graphic footage you might expect to see in a film that contains cutting and alcohol. It’s probably nothing “worse” than what you’d normally see on network TV, though. I wasn’t offended by it at all. In fact, it almost gave the film more credibility in the sense that we should never expect unbelievers to act like believers, and most of the characters in the film are definitely unbelievers. They’re just living the way they know how, and that transparency is communicated on the screen.

Bottom Line

So the million dollar question: Should you take your church’s youth group to see this film? For high school students, absolutely! For jr. high students, probably. The only reason I hesitate with jr. highers is because of the power of suggestion for them. Most, if not all, high school students have had first- or second-hand experience with the issues that are visually highlighted in the film. Some jr. highers, on the other hand, have a chance of still being a little more innocent (albiet, a small chance). They definitely need to be exposed to these issues around this age and doing it within the safety and wisdom of adults in a faith-based context is the best place to do it, but it is an emotionally taxing movie. I’d advise that you take a couple weeks to talk through these teen issues with jr. highers first, then go see the movie together. With sr. high, I’d probably do just the reverse: see the movie together first, then discuss it.

To Save A Life has youth group curriculum to accompany the movie, which you can purchase for $59.99 right now. I haven’t used it yet, but will probably pick it up soon for some of the high school small groups in my church after some further input from the adult and student leaders.

Trailer

Here’s the official trailer on YouTube.

More information

The movie is playing in theaters starting TODAY! Check out ToSaveALifeMovie.com for more information about the movie and to find a theater near you.

Win a free “To Save A Life” fan pack!

The people at To Save A Life have graciously given me 1 fan pack of schwag to give away for FREE to a lucky random person! The fan pack contains:

    Win To Save A Life schwag!
  • Limited Edition Hoodie
  • Printed novel
  • A slap bracelet
  • Pens
  • and other fun movie stuff

All you have to do is use the Twitter or Facebook Share buttons at the top of this page to help spread the word about this film and review! Next Friday, January 29, I will select one person at random and award them with the fan pack. (Note: you may tweet and post this review multiple times if you want, but doing so will not increase your chances of winning.) Enjoy!

UPDATE: This contest is over. See a video of the drawing for the fan pack giveaway here. Did you win it?


Posted on January 22, 2010

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  • Sarah Wadi

    great review :)

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/CoffeeWithChris CoffeeWithChris

    Tim, you should mention that the film is rated PG-13, so for a lot of us bringing most jr. highers will not go over well with parents anyway. Other than that I'd say your review is right on. I too have seen the film and I am really looking forward to bringing a bunch of sr. high students to it and engaging in conversation after.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/timschmoyer Tim Schmoyer

      Yeah, I could mentioned that. Figured people could see that easy enough on their own, though.

      And, yes, each youth worker should totally make a judgement call about how they handle it with their jr. highers and parents. It feels a bit foreign for me to think about working with parents who don't let their kids watch PG-13 movies, but I'm glad to hear they're out there!

  • Dave Langer

    Tim – Great review and right on target. I read an interview with Jim Britts (the films screenwriter and a youth pastor) recently and he mentioned that he struggled a bit with including/not including a specific Gospel proclamation. In the end he decided against it saying (and I'm paraphrasing) that the movie was going to raise questions but that it was the responsibility of CHristians seeing the movie to answer them. The movie is part of a larger outreach campaign – it's up to you and I as to how we employ it as a tool to share the Gospel with those around us.

    I think, as you say, a Gospel presentation could have fit seamlessly into the film, but also understand Mr. Britt's point of view. It is what it is – a well made film with the potential to make a huge impact…on believers first! I'd recommend any Pastor/Youth Pastor taking their entire group to see the flm at strongly consider following up with the curriculum, or a series based on the film.

    God bless you,

    Dave Langer, Sumter SC

  • http://twitter.com/ScottTinman @ScottTinman

    We had the preview here last month and have been able to get the movie locally for this weekend because of that showing. There was a comment made at the preview showing about the fact of not having a clear "relationship with Jesus" Gospel presentation

  • To Save A Life Lover

    I saw the moveie and loved it.I'm hoping there is going to be a second to save a life movie.

  • Amy

    I don't get it?? How is this movie Christian?? Who is saving a life here?? What life?? Our earthly life? What difference does it make what goes on here on earth if a person is not "Saved" by Jesus Christ!!!!! This movie is about a human saving another humans life!!! Humans can't save Humans??? Only Christ can save us from our sins and from eternal hellfire. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. I really wish someone could explain to me why they are calling this a Christian Movie – What is Christian about it? Plenty of "nice" people are going to go to hell because they are unsaved – They have not choses CHRIST as their personal saviour instead of their best friend. What differentiates this from a ….Muslim movie or a Buddist movie or a Hindu movie – is there a Gospel message in this movie that explains one needs to be saved by the antoning blood of Jesus Christ and somehow I missed that part???

    • Dale

      Thanks Amy for telling like it is

      • Amy

        Thanks Dale, It is really scary just how much people have perverted the meaning of Christianity to the point people don't even know what "Saved" really means. I pray for our young people that somehow they will find the truth. A supposed Pastor wrote this movie…..what a shame.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/timschmoyer Tim Schmoyer

      You're right, the gospel message wasn't clearly explicit in the story, but I'm not sure that means it doesn't teach biblical principles and the power of a changed life through the Holy Spirit. The book of Esther doesn't even mention God even once, yet it's in our Bible. I think the same principle applies here. Jesus told many stories that don't mention God but are instead intended to make a point and teach something about God. I think that's what this movie does, as well.

      With your standard, you'll also have to take Christian music, Christian books, and Christian t-shirts and throw most of it away. I'm not saying those things should stay around, just that you need to be consistent with your definition.

      Obviously, you're very passionate about your viewpoint so I'm not going to argue with you. Just thought I'd present the other side. Thanks for reading it!

      • Amy

        Hi Tim

        My point is anyone saved or unsaved can use Biblical principals – but unsaved our righteousness are as dirty rags to God outside the saving grace of Jesus Christ!! So what good is it to an unsaved person?? Christ did not die to teach us to be "nice" to others. He died to save us from our Sins. Being nice to others is the fruit of being saved. Other religions teach that people should be nice and helpful to others does that make them Christian?? What sets Christianity APART from other religions is the GOSPEL and if the GOSPEL is not there it is NOT Christian.

        • LeeAnn

          I totally agree with Amy. This movie should not be considered christian. I do NOT believe God's Word or His message needs cursing and sex scenes to get His Word acrossed. They could have left the curse words out and down played the sex scene for sure. I am also concerned with part of the message. Yes, we as christians need to make everyone feel loved but that we could keep someone from killing themselves is a big question. I am not sure I would want a teenager to feel as though they could have stopped someone from killing themselves just by being nicer to them. Most people who commit suicide have lots of other stuff going on too. Lets not forget to reassure our students that ultimately we cannot make that decision for anyone.

    • Student

      We are also called not just to "convert" people but to be Christ's hands and feet and Christ can save people through us, but not if we just sit back and do nothing.

  • Kelly

    This is about bullying and doing good. Anyone can receive that message or make that message in the name of Christianity.

    Youth Groups Leaders should be more discerning not so desperate for the latest shock movie with no specific message of Jesus Christ as our savior and expect teens to walk away with the understanding that this movie is telling them to accept our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. It's not. It's telling them, if they do the right thing, be kind to others because they have done the right thing. That's not enough, Christianity is accepting our Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior.

    Regarding the mature rating… The movie pg13, yes, many parents chose not bring this rating into their home. Please not that there were pg13 christian books out there in Christian Book Stores, I know because when I was 15 my sisters were helping me with my salvation (when I was backslid, I was doing drugs and having sex). However, those pg-13 books had a very clear message about salvation through accepting Jesus Christ as our personal savior.

    Youth ministry must remember this when chosing movies.

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  • sierra white

    I loved this movie and really encourage Youth Pastors/Leaders/Volunteers to show this movie to their Youth Groups. To Save a Life – Useful Ministry Tool http://bit.ly/pOY4Bo

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