Blue Like Jazz does indeed offer some degree of resolution but doesn't deliver its messages tied in neat little ribbons and bows. No sucker-punches here, although there are a few body-blows... will you feel like a sucker for handing over a hard-earned sawbuck-plus to see this film?
Blue Like Jazz
Directed by Steve taylor
In the just-released film adaptation of Donald Miller's book, Blue Like Jazz, the author's fictionalized counterpart makes the observation that the acronym 'SCCR', which is generously referenced in the film (Setting, Conflict, Climax, and Resolution), sounds suspiciously close to the word 'sucker.' The question is: will you feel like a sucker for handing over a hard-earned sawbuck-plus to see this film? Of course, a movie and a book are not the same thing, and creating a narrative film from a book like Blue Like Jazz, which is more of an observational diary of the soul than a time-line dependent story, calls for some modifications. The essay/diary/journal format of the book now becomes a story arc through establishing the main character ("Don," as opposed to Donald Miller), giving him a back-story, crisis, several challenges and, eventually, some degree of resolution. This is, after all, a narrative – a story that exists in an art form whose audience does usually require a beginning, middle, and an end in return for their movie ticket. But don't worry: Blue Like Jazz does indeed offer some degree of resolution but doesn't deliver its messages tied in neat little ribbons and bows. No sucker-punches here, although there are a few body-blows...
The main character, Don (Marshall Allman), is a somewhat naive church youth worker poised to set sail to adult-hood by enrolling in his first year of college – more specifically, a Christian college. His obviously-troubled, divorced mother (Jenny Littleton) is apparently experiencing some 'laying-on-of-hands' by the local Youth Pastor (Jason Marsden) – a fact that pushes the wide-eyed young Miller closer to the Dark Side represented by his free-living, 'progressive-thinking,' yet dead-beat dad (Eric Lange), who suggests that Don liberate his intellect and experience 'real' life by attending a secular college like Reed University. Taking up his father's offer of an 'in' at the University, our hero says goodbye to the "Roman Road" and sets out for a life more akin to Dante's Inferno on party night. At Reed, Don experiences life in the unbridled excess of a particularly liberal, progressive, modern institution of higher learning.
This spiritual coming-of-age story certainly has some unsettling moments – especially if you're a parent of a college age student – and paints a fairly unflattering picture of the more naïve and hypocritical aspects of fundamentalist Christianity. According to scripture, if we judge ourselves we will not be judged – if that's the case, maybe the church owes director Steve Taylor and his co-adapters, Miller and Ben Pearson (who also is responsible for the fine cinematography) a debt of gratitude. The condescending, gimmick-laden youth ministry of Don's home church is depicted as a thin veneer of smiling, pod-like conformity trying to cover a multitude of sins about as effectively as a fig leaf on an elephant. On the other hand, Reed College is presented as a bastion of non-conformity and free thought populated by a cast of characters that hide behind their own particular facades, even thought they'd no-doubt be loath to admit it. If there's any forgiving to be done by the audience it might be for the broadly-drawn stereotypes on either side – still, a point is being made here that's seldom addressed in 'Christian' films: we've all got our issues.
In the midst of Don's descent he encounters an unexpected trio of companions: the outrageous campus 'pope' (Justin Welborn), an introspective and caustic lesbian (Tania Raymonde), and a concerned social activist who is finding her way to God (Claire Holt). The roller-coaster spiritual journey takes Don for a pretty wild ride before he comes to the realization of what – or who – he's really been running from and toward at the same time. Yeah – now we're talking about Jesus. Deal with it. The film ends as Don's spiritual renewal begins. Avoiding any real spoiler, let me just say that he begins removing the log from his own eye so that he can look into the eyes of contemporaries without wearing a mask.
The story is told with Don's narration and occasional animation – if you've read the book you'll understand why. All of the actors do a fine job, with Allman (now there's an archetypical name) being particularly likeable as Don. Taylor's direction is well-paced and the camera angles and editing are right on the money in a no-frills style. Cutting a few minutes of some of the non-essential Reed College 'activities' might've tightened up the film and made for a more even-balanced story – or maybe this is my own reaction to what any parent would think of as a nightmare college scenario for his kids. The score works well and is appropriate to the story – and there's a special treat over the end credits for fans of Steve Taylor 's musical career! The film is rated PG13 for language, sexually-related dialog, drinking and drug use (Reed College – remember?) so this is not the film you want to show to your Childrens' Church on Sunday morning. On the other hand, this is a thought-provoking work that certainly deals with real life issues, not the least of which is what you really think about having a friend like Jesus.