Film Review: Blue Like Jazz
by Dave Minkus
After what I said in my review of online pharmacy cialis
ref=”http://www.screengeeks.com/2011/09/02/film-review-seven-days-in-utopia/” target=”_blank”>Seven Days In Utopia, I really couldn’t blame any Christian filmmaker for banning me from seeing their film in a preview capacity. Hopefully through the frustration and anger came the true point. I’ve spent my life being told Christian films are good because they talk about Jesus and are always rated PG at worst. I’ve always been of the opinion that Christian films need to relate to a non-Christian audience as well as a Christian one. When Pete’s Dragon is a darker movie than most films coming out of Christendom, we’ve got a problem. It’s this lifelong frustration that’s made me fall in love with Blue Like Jazz like I’ve never loved any other film from a Christian filmmaker before.
The film follows the journey of Don (Marshall Allman) as he spends most of his formative years in a church and is even the assistant to the youth pastor before he leaves for college. His parents are divorced, and his dad is anything but a religious person. His mom is alone and worrying about what’s going to happen when her only son leaves for school and she’s in an empty house by herself. Setting a stage that is all too familiar to many Christians, the film opens showing the fun as well as cheesy side of the church, ending with a scene of a cross-shaped pinata that bursts open to spill forth its sealed communion cups of juice (the symbol of the blood of Christ in the ceremony of Communion). After this point, Don discovers a revelation that completely turns his entire world upside down. Fortunately, his dad got him enrolled in a secular college, so he chooses to dump the scholarship he had at a Christian school and discover if what his dad says is true. Namely, that he only believes in all this God stuff because he doesn’t hang out with anyone who doesn’t believe differently.
What follows is an exploration of Don’s freshman year of college and discovering what all really is out there in the world. After stuffing that lifelong faith he’s had into the bottom of a pit, Don just tries to fit into a world he’s never really been in before. He makes friends, gets drunk, meets interesting people and generally experiences everything he possibly can that he was never exposed to in his sheltered life.
I have to stop here, because I can’t emphasize how wonderfully Don’s life is realized. In most Christian movies, the film would show him descending into a dark world of depravity (minus showing any of the depravity, because that’s not what Christians do), have him come to his glorious moment of return to God and then he gets the entire campus saved! YIPPEE!! I am SO happy that this doesn’t happen here. What makes Blue Like Jazz such a remarkable film is the fact that it shows Don’s life, whether it’s good, bad or ugly. Part of this obviously is credit to Don Miller, the author of the book, which is semi-autobiographical. On the other hand, Steve Taylor took the authenticity that was in The Second Chance and cranked it up to 11. To be fair, I haven’t read the book, but I think it’s fair to say that most Christian filmmakers wouldn’t have taken the risks that Taylor did. The story would’ve been sanitized for a “family audience”. Kudos to both men for not letting this happen.
Whether you look at this next part as good or bad is entirely dependant on your viewpoint. This movie is going to piss some Christians off. One of Don’s best friends in the movie is a lesbian. The film doesn’t make a single judgement about this fact. She’s a fully fleshed out character who is treated like a person. There is copious amounts of alcohol use and some drug use. This film has more profanity in it than any other film based on a Christian film I’ve ever seen outside of Machine Gun Preacher. Sorry, but I can’t be offended. Tania Raymonde brings a humanity to Lauryn and refuses to be simply classified as a lesbian. She’s a real person with real hurts, and I’m sad to say this is the first time I’ve seen a character treated this way in a Christian film. The fact that the morality of her sexuality never even comes into play in the film is absolutely refreshing. As far as everything else, I’ve always been of the opinion that life is at least r-rated, so let’s not pretend it isn’t. People swear. People have sex. People drink and do drugs. Why pretend it doesn’t happen?
This brings me to why this film resonated with me on such a basic level. Throughout the film, Don is struggling with the hypocrisy he’s lived with, the faith and Savior he came to love and with this new world that he’s been exposed to. Yes, it’s a Christian film, so Don does end up coming back to his faith, but it’s not a Brady Bunch, TBN kind of faith. Whether he knew it or not, he was following the the Biblical mandate to work out his salvation with fear and trembling. By forsaking that which he was taught to hold so dear for a time, Don comes to his own understanding of his faith. The film is an authentic look at the struggles that many Christians have and are afraid to even talk about. Were more Christians to find their own way to their faith than let it be spoonfed to them, Christians wouldn’t have the horrific stigma that we’ve so richly earned.
Sorry…I realize that pretty much came across like I was starting to preach, and that wasn’t my intention. So who should see this movie? The short answer is anyone with an open mind. Christians who want to see actual human beings on screen and someone who is relatable will find solace in this film. Non-Christians who want to see a thoughtful look into one man’s journey into his spiritual life while getting his first taste of worldly goodness at college are going to have a heck of a good time but hopefully also understand where some Christians are coming from. I loved part of the film where Don essentially says, “Look, I know this might be wierd to you, but this is what I believe”. It was open, raw and honest. I can’t recommend this film highly enough and I hope this is just the beginning of what’s to come from the Christian film industry. Blue Like Jazz is funny, sad, crazy, and more importantly, real.
Not sure if you’re aware of it, but Blue Like Jazz is based on Miller’s own book of the same name. It’s a great book and one I highly recommend. Also, you may want to consider also picking up A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, where Miller reflects on his life and how he wants his “story” told from the process of making the film.
Miller is one of my favorite writers and I find his writing to have the feel of sitting down with a good friend and authentically discussing religion, life, etc. in a coffee shop or over a frosty adult beverage.
Glad to hear the movie (which I’ve been both looking forward to and apprehensive about because, the movie is never as good as the book) is recommended by you guys. Hope to hear you guys podcasting again soon!
Thank you Dave for this review. I will definitely check it out! I am the same way as you, I generally avoid Christian films, because they feel so fake to me. I look forward to finding this one and watching it. If it is as you say it is, I will be happy to encourage others to watch & hopefully get more like it made. Thank you for your honest review and opinion!