BLUE LIKE JAZZ – The Review
BLUE LIKE JAZZ is based on the New York Times best-selling book of the same title by Donald Miller, and an official selection in the SXSW (South By Southwest) Film Festival. This alone may be enough for some to count this film as an unwavering success, but despite the film’s valiant efforts, it is not without it’s flaws. That being said, the film is also far from being a waste of the viewer’s time… in fact, I encourage seeing this film for what it is, flaws and all, because it’s the kind of movie we rarely see in theaters, and one that is rarely as accomplished as this one has turned out within it’s distinct genre of storytelling.
Directed by Steve Taylor, BLUE LIKE JAZZ is a story of faith and how it collides with one’s struggle to find his place in the world. Marshall Allman plays Donald Miller, the central character and author of the book from which the film is based. Donald is a young Texan man, a Southern Baptist with divorced parents, son to an uber-conservative Jesus-freak mother (Jenny Littleton) and a liberal intellectual atheist father (Eric Lange) whom he refers to as “The Hobo.” Life is peachy and grand for Donald, as he goes about his quaint little life as assistant to the youth pastor of his church… until he discovers a life-altering secret about his mother and the servant of God with whom he served. At this moment, Donald’s continuing collegiate course changes drastically, choosing to attend Reed College in the Pacific Northwest instead of Trinity Baptist in Texas.
This is the setup, having successfully framed Donald as the proverbial square, a holy-roller without a clue, but a nice guy who gets dumped on by those he loved. BLUE LIKE JAZZ presents itself in an oddly, often forced quirkiness, but given the nature of the film and the tone of the film, this forced quirkiness actually lends a certain pleasant peculiarity to the film’s charm, which permeates even the lower moments. From day one, arriving at Reed College, Donald is clearly a fish out of water, but this is carried over from his time in Texas, where Donald was already something of a fish out of water without truly realizing it. We’re introduced early on, perhaps subconsciously, to this idea of Donald being different from the average folk, falling somewhere between the two extremes. This may be slightly cliche’ in it’s execution, but once more… it works here.
Donald meets and befriends two fellow students at Reed College that ultimately hold extremely influential roles in his personal epiphany. Kenny (Jason Marsden) — aka, The Pope — is a wild card, a free spirit and a sort of rebellious anti-religious version of Donald, while Penny (Claire Holt) is a straight-laced, well-mannered do-gooder with whom Donald develops an infatuation with despite the unknown similarity they share. Donald struggles to reconcile between his being drawn into the life of parties and pranks that Kenny leads and the more righteous, conscience-driven life led by Penny. Somewhere in the middle is the relatively insignificant but welcome friendship Donald makes with a lesbian student named Lauryn (Tania Raymonde).
BLUE LIKE JAZZ plays out much like ANIMAL HOUSE (1978) meets ACCEPTED (2006) as a college film with lots of partying and craziness but with substance and a message, even if the message is heavy-handed. BLUE LIKE JAZZ definitely wears it’s heart on it’s sleeve, making no effort to hide it’s agenda as a film focused on making a statement. BLUE LIKE JAZZ stands up and proudly says “I’m a Christian and that’s alright, because we’re not all crazy extremists and I have a sense of humor about my life.”
Regardless of where you stand on the scale of religion, BLUE LIKE JAZZ is a film that can be appreciated for it’s willingness to expose itself and have fun with a topic otherwise taken far too seriously by far too many people. BLUE LIKE JAZZ is funny, light-hearted and quirky… until the final act, specifically the long, drawn-out ending scene when Donald has his ultimate epiphany. This scene removes itself from the lighter touch of the rest of the film, sinking into the preachy depths from which it had successfully avoided up to this point. My advice, enjoy the film up to this point, then bite your tongue during the end, followed by an intriguing and intelligent debate with a number of various outlooks on the film with others as you leave the theater.
Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
BLUE LIKE JAZZ opens today, April 13th in St. Louis at Wehrenberg Theatres.
More information about BLUE LIKE JAZZ can be found at bluelikejazzthemovie.com