Randy Wayne, Robert Bailey, Jr., Joshua Weigel, Deja Kreutzberg
Samuel Goldwyn Films
To Save a Life: Behind the Scenes
What's Going On Here?
First off, if you found the films "Facing the Giants" or "Fireproof" abysmal then you should immediately check "To Save a Life" off your list.
I'm just sayin'.
The latest in an ever-increasing line of semi-wide release films from a faith-based perspective, "To Save a Life" is the debut film from Oceanside, CA based New Song Pictures. It's not surprising that New Song has aligned with Samuel Goldwyn Films, a distributor long recognized for its dedication to family friendly and faith-based films such as "Amazing Grace," the aforementioned "Fireproof" and the critically acclaimed "Elegy."
"To Save a Life" centers around Jake Taylor (Randy Wayne, "The Haunting of Molly Hartley"), a high school student seemingly living the ideal life with a full ride basketball scholarship on the way, the hottest girl in school and what could best be described as the charmed life.
Roger Dawson (Robert Bailey, Jr., "Coraline"), on the other hand, isn't living the charmed life despite being a childhood friend of Jake's long since tossed away. Roger's unpopular with no skills, no girl and no hope. When Roger kills himself one day on campus, Jake's charmed life comes crashing down as he begins a journey of soul searching inner exploration, self-examination, questioning of faith and trying to answer the basic yet complex question "What do I want my life to be about?"
While "To Save a Life" is a paint-by-numbers teen drama from a faith perspective, director Brian Baugh draws out nice, comfortable performances from his largely young adult cast in exploring issues that impact teens everywhere today. The film's PG-13 rating is a powerful indicator that "To Save a Life" is no typical faith flick, but one dedicated to providing an honest, authentic and occasionally raw examination of issues impacting youth such as sexuality, alcohol/drugs and, of course, teen suicide.
While there's no disguising the film's foundation in faith, Baugh and screenwriter Jim Britts present the film's faith perspective as more inter-twined in the lives of the film's characters as opposed to the approach of many Christian directors who seem to almost turn Christianity into yet another character all its own.
The film deals honestly, intimately and touchingly with the ways in which Jake tries to change the person he's become including becoming involved with a campus youth pastor (Joshua Weigel) and questioning his relationship with his girlfriend (Deja Kreutzberg, "Sorority Row"), a young lady who'd likely be right at home on the set of "Mean Girls." While the film could have benefited from some additional editing from its 2-hour runtime and its wrapping up of unresolved issues is a bit too neat and tidy to feel truly authentic, "To Save a Life" feels like the kind of film that would and should be embraced by Christian youth groups and other organizational settings that reach out to youth and young adults.
While none of the performances here are likely to be accepting any golden statuettes anytime soon, the ensemble cast captures the spirit, energy and emotion of the story nicely in much the same way the grassroots cast involved with "Facing the Giants" elevated that film so wonderfully. Randy Wayne, actually an experienced actor with an extensive Hollywood background, serves as a solid foundation upon which to build the film as its central character. While the supporting cast is a bit more hit-and-miss, kudos go to Robert Bailey, Jr. for his sympathetic and deeply felt turn as Roger while Joshua Weigel does a nice job as the endlessly empathetic youth pastor though one does question what almost feels like forced conflict between the youth pastor and another pastor and, at times, an overly charismatic style for the pastor that will certainly turn off any non-believers in the film's audience.
The camera work by C. Clifford Jones is solid throughout, though the original score from Christopher Lennertz and Timothy Wynn occasionally dips a bit too deeply into the sort of unnecessarily histrionic heights that one expects from soaring high action dramas and not faith-based teen faith flicks. Grammy winning Christian artist Charlie Peacock serves as the film's music supervisor and has assembled a nice mix of known and relative unknowns for the film's soundtrack including the likes of Superchick, Paul Wright, Joy Williams and others.
While "To Save a Life" is unlikely to attract much of a wider audience beyond its faith roots, it is a surprisingly solid debut from the folks at New Song and a nice addition to the growing number of faith-based films hitting theatres in both limited and wide releases. While the film is far from flawless, it does accomplish its mission of presenting a heartfelt and well thought out story through the eyes of faith. While the film itself is unlikely to save a life, it will likely touch the lives of those faithful teens, parents, youth groups and churches who view it and, hopefully, follow up their viewing with honest, authentic conversations.
For more information on "To Save a Life," visit the film's website. Check your local listings or the website to see if the film is showing at a theatre near you!
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic