From outward descriptions, and many of its inward details, the film To Save a Life might seem fraught with diluting elements, cinematically speaking. A sometimes sappy slice-of-teen-life tale, which was Christian-funded and partly evangelically themed, Life is not a movie that falls comfortably into the often cynical landscape of Hollywood teen cinema. With all that said, however, To Save a Life is a surprisingly moving event. It winds up being a realistic and earnest look at adolescent angst, teen suicide, and other youthful struggles and proposes alternatives without that preachy aftertaste.
The story opens with the funeral of an African-American teen, a victim of ostracism and the lurking cruelty of the high school environment. Our handsome young protagonist (Randy Wayne), grappling with his own love troubles with his girlfriend (Deja Kreutzberg) and urged by guilt and compassion for his school’s pariahs, has a transformation of conscience—which includes the makings of a spiritual awakening. Writer Jim Britts and director Brian Baugh seem to carefully walk a line, generally erring on the side of subtlety, even while soft-selling a religious angle and touching on failings and hypocrisies within the church.
More importantly, in a way, the filmmakers address the fragile state of adolescent life. They also deal with the volatile post-Columbine atmosphere in American high schools—and in a very different way than Gus Van Sant’s Elephant. To Save a Life dares to wear heart on sleeve while taking aim at nothing short of youth-oriented life-affirmation.