With the recent Chick-fil-A controversy, the Presidential campaign, and increasing Westboro Baptist Church protests, Christianity is getting a bad rap these days. So many hurtful and hateful things are done in the name of religion, causing nonbelievers to become even more opposed. Now is probably the best time for a film adaptation of Donald Miller’s memoir Blue Like Jazz; a tale about how Christianity can fit in the real world.
Don (Marshall Allman) is a Texas bred, Southern Baptist who is about to leave for the Baptist college that his mother so wants him to attend. Prior to his departure, Don visits his deadbeat hippie father (Eric Lange) who wants more for his son than his rigid religious upbringing; he announces that he has enrolled Don at Reed College in Portland so he can expand his horizons. Don scoffs at first, but then agrees to go.
Upon his arrival, Don is bombarded with a barrage of standard college shenanigans – the widespread disbursement of condoms, and a lecture by a pretty girl about the folly of bottled water. Don settles into his single room (deadbeat dad must be LOADED), and begins attending classes about literature and science. Soon he discovers that being a Christian at a liberal college will attract persecution, so he keeps his beliefs hidden and succumbs to the typical college life.
After discovering indiscretions involving his mother, and discovering that the pretty girl with the aversion to bottled water is a Christian, Don is torn between his faith and his feelings of betrayal regarding religion.
And this is what the film gets right. So often, “Christian” movies don’t deal with deep seated religious issues in a way that doesn’t seem too preachy. After all, the last thing that a person dealing with religious betrayal wants is to be preached to. Blue Like Jazz deals with real world issues in real world ways. Its characters aren’t pious – they drink, curse, talk about sex, and occasionally do stupid things. In this way, the film opens itself up for a broader audience and their potential acceptance.
The only misstep is the final act of the film, where loose ends aren’t completely tied up, important characters are dropped, and Don gets just slightly preachy. But his journey is complete, even if everyone else’s isn’t yet. When I think about it, that’s often how it is in real life as well. Nobody has a life-changing religious experience at the exact same time as the people around them; especially in college.
Recognizable, pretty lead actors, including Marshall Allman who played Tommy in True Blood and Claire Holt who plays Rebekah in the current season of The Vampire Diaries, and a hearty run at this year’s Sundance Film Festival will bring a younger audience to Blue Like Jazz. Hopefully with its real life situations, Donald Miller’s message will be well received by that audience.
The visuals on this Blu-ray are breathtaking. To further expand on the title, the use of the color blue is prominent, especially on a small bridge just outside of Don’s dorm window. The sound is perfect as well. The audio/visual quality is especially impressive considering the film was a Kickstarter project. The Blu-ray release includes a commentary track with the director, cinematographer, and screenwriter/author, and several interesting featurettes. My favorites were Save Blue Like Jazz, about the previously mentioned Kickstarter campaign, and the Making Blue Like Jazz featurettes. A featurette called This is My Story has interviews with people talking about what the New York Best Selling book meant to them. If you’re a fan of the book, this one is for you.
While it does have its flaws, Blue Like Jazz is ambitious in its message and, in my opinion, is to be respected for that. Its message may be considered preachy or heavy handed by some, but it’s forgiving and earnest. As a college coming of age story, it’s very accurate in its depictions without being stereotypical. Blue Like Jazz is an interesting, thought-provoking film, especially for these times, and should be sought out.
Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate present Blue Like Jazz. Directed by: Steve Taylor. Starring: Marshall Allman, Claire Holt, Eric Lange, Jason Marsden. Written by: Donald Miller. Running time: 107 minutes. Rating: PG-13. Released: August 7, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.