When I first heard that Donald Miller’s “Blue Like Jazz” was being adapted into a film, I was curious about how they would craft an effective screenplay from a series of essays. My curiosity was answered last night.
I’m a fan of Donald Miller’s books and I was concerned that I wouldn’t be objective about the film. I wanted to be able to say, “this film sucked” if indeed it did. This film did not suck. It exceeded my expectations not only in its fictionalized re-telling of the book’s themes and events, but also by the quality of the film itself. I’ve not been happy with most of the films that have come out of Christian circles. With rare exception, most films made by Christians have not been what I would invite friends to see. This was far and above anything I’ve seen from artists of faith up to this point. Whatever accolades this film receives, what it does best is take a big step forward as an example of what filmmakers with a Christian perspective are capable of.
The film tells the story of Don (Marshall Allman of “True Blood” and “Prison Break”) as he flees his fundamentalist Baptist roots after discovering the hypocrisy of the Christian subculture in which he’s grown up. As he makes his way through Reed College, he crosses paths with people far removed from his fundamentalist world back in Texas. Tania Raymonde (Lost) plays Lauryn, a lesbian from the Midwest who tells him his only hope of survival as a Reedie is to keep his “wacko, religious beliefs” in the closet. Justin Welborn (The Final Destination, The Crazies) portrays a student who roams the campus dressed up as the Pope and committed to freeing his fellow students from the shackles that come from believing in God.
Most Christian films do little more than preach to the choir. Blue Like Jazz goes in the opposite direction and holds up a mirror to believers and asks hard questions about how faith is lived out and what kind of effect Christians have on an unbelieving world. The film moved me in ways that I did not expect. It also depicts unbelievers not as projects for Christians to target for conversion, but as people to extend grace toward and to love unconditionally.
I agree with another reviewer that this is not the film that some Christians will like, but it is the film that Christians need. It avoids sanitizing life to the point of being unbelievable and strikes a familiar chord depicting the world most of us live in. It does so with a great story, great acting and pretty decent filmmaking. It may not win any awards (or maybe it will) but it will be remembered as a pivotal faith-based film that raises the bar for Christian artists.
To find Blue Like Jazz at a theater near you, visit the film’s official website here.