Release Date: April 13, 2012 (limited)
Studio: Roadside Attractions
Director: Steve Taylor
Screenwriter: Donald Miller, Steve Taylor, Ben Pearson
Starring: Marshall Allman, Claire Holt, Tania Raymonde
MPAA Rating: Independent Film
Official Website: BlueLikeJazzthemovie.com
To use the cliche, overused term, Blue Like Jazz is a true coming of age story that puts Donald Miller, our hero, in a disturbing situation involving family deception and motives, compelling him to escape his evangelical upbringing and discover a new, and completely different life.
Miller accepts his enrollment at one of the more progressive colleges in America, Reed College in Portland Oregon. There he discovers, not only a newness of life, virtually free of evangelical Christians, but also a community of broad minded thinkers that take it upon themselves to integrate Miller into their click, taking on the “establishment” head first. Thus follows a series of events that will challenge Miller to examine himself, his beliefs, and his relationship with those he loves.
This is a film about doubt and facing those doubts. Like most overly Christian films and books, Blue Like Jazz fell into the category of cheese and camp for me…something that would, most likely, make me hurl or compel me to slam my head against a wall. Being a graduate of a small, liberal arts Christian college, I remember seeing this book floating around amongst the other books by “Christian” authors. Everyone kept telling me it was a great read, but my preconceived notions led me to believe otherwise. But I decided to give the film a try and have a much more condensed version of what seems to be a very influential story for many Christians.
Blue Like Jazz was surprisingly refreshing, well written, captivating, and expertly executed into a two hour cinematic delight. Instead of presenting us with a story of being a contagious Christian, the film is about simply being human and being honest with yourself. You’ll see no pulpit pounding or Bible thumping in this film, but rather Miller pounding away with alcohol, sex, college, homosexuality, atheism, and secular vigilantism – a complete 180 degree difference from his life before college.
If this story is completely true, without any exaggeration, Then I wonder about the types of people this college drew in. With time to think about film after leaving the theater, I began to wonder how much of the characters were revamped to help Miller’s story seem to be MORE than what it actually was – is it possible that every student enrolled at Reed is a lesbian atheist trying to find new ways of fighting the corporations of the world and defacing religious institutions?
The film doesn’t waste time (and this is my favorite aspect of the film) with delving into preachy condemations of these student’s behavior, but rather, with curious eyes, watches Don Miller slowly integrate into this anti-everything, activist group. And like many of us immersing ourselves into a new culture, Miller accepts the assimilation, very much wanting to become one of them. As a result, he covers his true self up and tucks it behind a plethora of cynicism that he believes his new found friends adhere to.
Of course, this misses the point as he soon finds out that none of this clicky band blindly follow their cynical ways – they are all exceptionally passionate about a certain set of values that differ from one another in some fashion, yet are similar in strange ways. Miller fails to recognize this and believes his friends are being defiant simply for the sake of being defiant. Only shortly after the film’s half way point does he begin to understand who his friends are and what they stand for, and by extension, himself.
It’s a bold tale that does a fantastic job at fusing its religious themes with its beer-chugging characters to make an interesting and surprisingly contemporary look at one’s faith. It attempts to examine the existential struggles that many, like Don Miller, deal with when entering into a new faze of their life. In that regard, it might just be one of the more relatable films that have come around in the last ten years.
Of course, the story is still cheesy; there have only been a few Christian based stories that have found a way of breaking free of the camp and becoming a truly well written and inspirational narrative. But while Blue Like Jazz is quite hokey, it’s powerful and inspirational message is delivered eloquently and effortlessly. It presents a challenge for all its viewers, asking the question, “do we hold onto certain convictions and ideals simply to fit in or sound important while abandoning what we truly believe and cherish?” How many of us Christians, who have gone through similar situations, can reply “AMEN” to that? (I’m guessing it’s a majority.)
It took rolling around in a port-a-potty, smelling like beer and feces to make him come to terms with his situation. He hadn’t become this cynical young man due to any personal convictions or mission to change the world for the better. He was simply trying to escape his mother and family who had lied to him, running away from everything that they had taught him. He had been misrepresenting himself and the God that he believed in. THAT is a powerful realization to come to that not everyone is willing to accept.
Youth groups around the world who are taking trips to the theater to watch this film and discuss it later, don’t fall victim to your youth pastor spilling out the phrase, “You can choose to make the better decision, not go through this and accept Christ in your life now and be free of the stain of doubt.” If that happens, and YOU accept it, you’d have missed the point of the film entirely.
So take some time and watch this film – completely and utterly Christian with an obvious Christian message that won’t annoy you or make you feel like you’ve died inside. This is, without a doubt, one of the very few films based on a novel, that has inspired me to read the book.