In Home Viewings: Blue Like Jazz

Naïve 19 year-old Don Miller (Marshall Allman) has his life pretty well planned out. After working hard to get through two years of junior college, he’ll head off to a Bible college near his South Texas home town and then head off on a nice career path, probably as some sort of minister. But a last minute admission to Reed College, a prestigious but incredibly liberal school in the Pacific Northwest gets him thinking and when he finds that his mother is having an affair with his friend, who also happens to be the church’s youth minister, he hits the road and takes his place at Reed. Here he discovers a world far different than he could have ever expected, a place where he doesn’t fit in and his beliefs have absolutely no place. Don jumps into this exciting new world with reckless abandon, prompting a crisis of faith that will force him to choose once and for all whether or not he’ll continue to hold to the values of his youth. Confession: I have never read “Blue Like Jazz”, the book that was of course the inspiration for this film. At least, I’ve never read it all the way through though I’ve picked it up a few times. It’s possible that this makes me the only Christian under the age of 30 in the whole of America that hasn’t read this book but I fought my way through one of Miller’s books in the past and I can’t bring myself to do it again. Nothing against the guy, I just don’t like his style of writing. Nevertheless, I’m keenly aware that this is a beloved book that has changed a lot of people’s lives, both Christians and non-Christians. The outpouring of support that Donald Miller and his book have received has never been more evident than when it came time to make a film adaptation as Blue Like Jazz was almost entirely funded through a Kickstarter campaign. So to the supporters of the book and the film, let me just say now that I thoroughly respect your love of the material and I’m glad that you got the movie you clearly wanted. It would probably be best that those of you who helped fund this film would stop reading now.

Despite the great story of how the film got financed, in its finished state, Blue Like Jazz is not exactly a rousing endorsement for the Kickstarter system. It is, in fact, a borderline terrible film that I almost turned off within the first 10 minutes. I’m not sure when I last had the occasion to quit on a movie I paid to see but the last one I can remember was 2008’s Be Kind Rewind which almost made me hate all movies. In its early stages, there is absolutely NOTHING redeeming about this film. It looks, feels, and plays like a student film developed by a bad student at one of the country’s worst film schools. I particularly loved (read: “loathed in a manner similar to how Voldemort felt about Muggles”) a strange section in which director Steve Taylor chose to show Don’s choosing of his path (Reed College or Bible College) by converting him, his car, and his surroundings into horribly animated cartoon form as a rabbit version of Don followed a carrot with arms and legs up to Portland. I cannot explain this sequence nor will I try but suffice it to say I almost hit my DVD player with a hammer to make it stop.

Most of the characters, on both sides of the equation mind you, are painted in the most one dimensional, heavy-handed manner possible making every single person in this film outside of Don seem completely unrealistic and moreover, thoroughly unlikable. I hated them all, really, whether devout Texas Christians or hard-drinking college intellectuals. There’s almost no craft to Blue Like Jazz whatsoever and even though it’s only 108 minutes long, the first 90 feels like an eternity. Now, I will say that the story is an appealing one so I can understand the love the book has achieved but in film form it unfolds in such a worthless way as to become almost embarrassing for everyone involved. The one thing Blue Like Jazz really has going for it is its conclusion. The last 10 or 15 minutes in which Don wrestles with and ultimately comes to a decision regarding his faith and the way he represents that are definitely the high point of the whole affair. It’s still not great and it might not even be good but compared to the first two acts, the final piece is a ruddy masterpiece, though that wasn’t nearly enough to keep it from finding a place amongst the ten worst films I saw in 2012. Please don’t watch this movie.

Blue Like Jazz Director: Steve Taylor Cast: Marshall Allman, Claire Holt, Tania Raymonde Rated: PG-13 (some language, drinking, some of the most offensive animation ever) Recommended For: People who helped fund the film through Kickstarter