Ziggy is an influencer.
He and his original folk-rock-with-alternative-influences tunes are important if you ask him. He’s a teen celebrity, really. I mean, yeah, his livestreamed music only brings in a little cash at this point. But the number of people tuning in is growing, and they’re bound to make him incredibly rich someday. You’ll see.
He just needs to make sure his dumb old mom doesn’t walk in while he’s livestreaming. Doesn’t she get it? This is art we’re talking about! To that end, Ziggy has mounted a large flashing red light outside his bedroom door to warn both of his parents not to come barging in when he’s streaming … and, ahem, doing other things.
No, he doesn’t stream those “other” things. They just happen, sometimes when he’s thinking about a certain girl at school named Lila. She’s … incredible. I mean, she doesn’t give him much of her time, ‘cause, well, she has so much social change stuff going on. She’s incredibly clued into a whole leftist political vibe that Ziggy doesn’t quite get yet.
He will soon. ‘Cause Lila is so cool and pretty and hot and smart; and he wants her to see his music as, you know, smart, kinda, too. He just needs to do a little reading up on how our patriarchal society is causing suffering and global warming and … well, he needs to figure out what a patriarchal society even is. Then he’ll be all about using his platform right, like Lila suggested. She’s so … lit!
As far as Ziggy’s parents are concerned, well, they’re into their own things.
His grumpy, reticent dad is into wine, mostly. And his mom, Evelyn, runs a shelter for abused women, which consumes her whole life in some ways. She used to be connected at the hip with Ziggy when he was little. She took him to every march, every protest. He was going to be one of the good ones, thanks to her.
But that was then.
They haven’t been connected like that in a very long time. And now that he’s an online, uh, streamer person, well, she doesn’t really understand anything he says anymore. He’s just a little insufferable, frankly. In her opinion he’s out of tune with things of true social importance.
That’s why Evelyn has been investing much of her energy lately in a sensitive, mature boy named Kyle. He moved into the shelter in support of his abused mother. And Evelyn is sure that with just a little nurturing, a little nudging, she can get Kyle to think correctly—toss aside his silly ideas of working in a car shop and get a scholarship to college.
Of course, Evelyn’s bossy nudging would be seen by Ziggy’s self-focused almost-but-not-quite girlfriend Lila as nothing more than white-savior do-goodery. Lila would hate it all. She would label Evelyn as, well, insufferable.
And round-and-round the narcissistic merry-go-round of almost-but-not-quite relationships spins.
As outside observers, we get the impression that there are a lot of ways that Ziggy’s family members could connect with each other. But none of the three take a step to do so. The teen even lightly reaches to his parents for validation in some brief moments, to no effect. As for Evelyn, she actually runs in an opposite direction from the son and family she has.
Those facts aren’t positive, of course. But they could be seen as a positive warning to watching families. For you get the impression that there is something being missed (a fact that the movie’s ending supports).
Kyle proves himself to be a sincere young man who stands by his mother when she was being abused. He helps her and others who ask for his help. And even when Evelyn selfishly pushes him in certain directions, he is always polite in dealing with her.
There’s no spiritual content here, save the nearly religious passion that the student socialists display.
After borrowing one of Lila’s protest poems, Ziggy masturbates while reading it (just offscreen).
Kyle’s father, we hear, was physically abusive to him and his mother. A teen talks about getting her tongue pierced.
There are 22 f-words and 20 s-words sprinkled throughout the dialogue along with 11 misuses of God’s and Jesus’ name total (including three times where God is blended with “d–n” and once where an f-word is paired with Jesus Christ).
Wine is the beverage of choice for both Evelyn and her husband, Roger. They drink during dinner, while casually lounging and in moments of stress.
A friend of Ziggy’s is constantly puffing on a vape pen and asking Ziggy if he wants a hit. Ziggy refuses.
Early on, we see moments that illustrate how detached Evelyn and Roger have become in life. She’s lightly annoyed at having to receive someone’s thankful hug, for instance. And when Ziggy asks his mom for a ride to school and says he’ll be down in five seconds, she waits exactly five seconds before leaving without him.
Roger is also an untouchable, emotionally distant island. Ziggy starts talking about his music, for instance, and his dad is only concerned that Ziggy might be misappropriating someone else’s culture with his musical choices. And when Roger and Ziggy have an opportunity to talk about feelings, Roger can only quote statistics from a news article that warns about Ziggy’s “white, educated age group” being susceptible to suicide.
Likewise, Ziggy and his classmates are part of a gathering of student socialists. They sing, recite poetry and cry out about all the ways our country, with its government and “white, morally superior values,” is systematically decimating the world. Ziggy doesn’t really understand it all, but Lila is deeply committed to this way of thinking and can talk of little else.
Evelyn lies to her husband and others during her (almost stalker-like) pursuit of Kyle’s attention.
When You Finish Saving the World is a difficult film. And that’s not because its subject matter is tough to wade through. The film is difficult because nearly every one of its characters are such detached narcissists that, from a viewer’s perspective, it’s hard to care about them. (Even the gifted actress Julianne Moore has a hard time convincing us to identify with her portrayal.)
There are students here bemoaning all the ways our society is ruining their very privileged lives. There’s a callow teen obsessed with pointless and cheesy ditties he’s streaming to a listening internet. There are a pair of parents, too focused on their own life choices (and current wine choices) to connect with their son. And there’s a controlling abuse shelter director who wants to transform a young shelter resident into a person he isn’t very interested in being.
None of these people can get past their own naive self-importance long enough to connect with anyone else in truly meaningful ways.
The movie’s title, and its last few minutes, perhaps suggest that’s the point we’re supposed to walk away with. It suggests that we need to step back from our personal crusades long enough to connect with the people around us. To be real. And that’s a good message. But the oh-so-profane and hollow movie slog you must endure to get to that point is enough to make you bemoan your wasted (if privileged) life.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.