Friday, March 23

Blue Like Jazz - the Movie review

Blue Like Jazz opens with the basics of story structure: Setting, Crisis, Climax, and Resolution. This underlying theme of storytelling seems to be inspired by the accounts told in Miller’s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, were we learn about the process of writing Blue Like Jazz.

In the film, Don works at a plant which makes pre-ready communion cups.  He plans to attend a Baptist college not far from home.  His dad, described, as ‘the Hobo,’ encourages attendance at Reed, a school which has been called one of the most godless campuses in America. Of course Don refuses.  However, at his church Don is confronted with a hypocrisy which seriously shakes his faith.

Confused and angry, Don decides to take up his dad’s idea.  At Reed he meets Lauryn (in the men’s room) and she introduces him to Reed.  When she discovers his religious background she warns him, “Get in the closet, Baptist boy.”  Don also meet social-activist, Penny, who he quickly falls for, as well as connecting to a character referred to as ‘The Pope,’ an atheist who is designated to be ‘God’s voice’ for the campus. 

Arriving at Reed, Don is surprised to see how sure of themselves people are.  They seem to know who they are and are actively involved in various activities and organizations.  Not knowing who he is, Don struggles.  He tries social activism, because he likes Penny.  The Pope offers the opposite of his church, so Don attempts to shed his religious roots.  But he still feels like something doesn’t fit.

As a fan of the book, I loved some of the references to elements in the book, especially the incorporation of Sexy Carrot.  As Blue Like Jazz (the book) was essay based, I wondered how it would adapted.  I thought the resulting screenplay captured a lot of the book’s heart.  Many parts were fictionalized for the purpose of the film, but I thought on the whole they supported rather than detracted from the story.

Blue Like Jazz has definitely taken a strong step forward for films made by Christians.  The cinematography was nice throughout the film, and I loved the blue color tones which were spread the film.  Unlike other films such as Fireproof, Blue Like Jazz avoids using CCM music in its score, and as a result, the score felt supportive of the film instead of being a marketing device.

There still is room for improvement, though.  Some dialogue was still on-the-nose at times, and the script tries too hard to be funny at times, but it was still a noticeable improvement over typical ‘Christian’ fare. 

The main characters actually felt like they had depth to them, and their highs and lows felt real.  There was a scene between Lauryn and Don late in the film which illustrates the character’s emotional states at that point.  At first glance the characters seem to be stereotypes: Lauryn, the lesbian friend; Penny, the social activist; The Pope, the atheist.  However, as the story progresses the characters break from what is expected. 

Blue Like Jazz is not preachy.  There are a couple of church scenes, but they tend to support the inner conflict Don is having.   The ‘sermon’ scene functions more as a device in the plot rather than the obligatory ‘church scene.’  There is no sharing the gospel or sinner’s prayer moments.  This movie wasn’t designed to be a conversion tool, it’s a story about one man’s story.  That story happens to involve spirituality.

If Blue Like Jazz shows at a theater near you, and you have any desire to see it, I encourage you to see it opening weekend.  It’s one of the best ways to help more films like it get made and also helps the chances that those films will get a stronger budget, which can provide noticeable boosts in quality.

3/5 stars

Blue Like Jazz opens on April 13th.  It will be showing at Celebration North in Grand Rapids.

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