The good news is that BLUE LIKE JAZZ, Donald Miler’s bestselling memoir about faith and identity has been turned into an even better indie film. The bad news is that when I saw the film this morning I was the only person in the theatre. Granted, 10:40 on a Sunday morning may not be the most accurate gauge for a film that’s actively courting the Christian audience, but it was still disappointing. BLUE LIKE JAZZ, like last year’s HIGHER GROUND, and the upcoming Kathleen Turner drama THE PERFECT FAMILY, is another in a rare group of movies that takes religious faith as a subject worthy of serious exploration.
Which is not to say the film also can’t be funny. Director Steve Taylor had a successful career as a contemporary music arist in the 80’s, but ran afoul of the Christian music establishment by mixing in a heavy dose of sarcasm with the uplift. The opening of BLUE LIKE JAZZ, in which we see our protagonist and his buddy working on the line in a Texas factory which manufactures pre-filled communion cups, somehow makes perfect sense coming from the man who brought you pop ditties like “This Disco (Used to Be A Cute Cathedral)”. BLUE LIKE JAZZ is a journey of faith, but it also emphasizes the importance of thinking for yourself, so Taylor’s sensibilities suit Miller’s material well.
BLUE LIKE JAZZ follows 19 year old Donald Miller (Marshall Allman) as he tries to come to grips with a crisis of faith. Raised a Baptist in Houston, Miller is all set to continue his religious education at a Baptist University when he finds his mother embroiled in a church scandal and abruptly changes course. His decidedly Non-Baptist father pulls some strings and gets his son enrolled at ultra liberal Reed College in Portland. No longer certain of anything, Don heads for Reed to get as far away from his family as possible.
As one might imagine, as a Texas Baptist at Reed, Don faces some difficult adjustments. “We haven’t had a Christian Club here since the Nixon Administration,” he’s told by Lauryn(Tania Raymonde), a lesbian classmate who offers him a seat on his first day. Instead the list of clubs includes Malaysian Cocktail Tennis, Lamaze for Non-Mothers, and Vietnam War reenactments. Don is so worried that his Christian beliefs will get him ostracized by his classmates that he completely suppresses them. By the end of the movie, Miller seems willing to accept that his secrecy about his beliefs is it’s own form of hypocrisy.
Marshall Allman plays Donald Miller with just the right combination of sweetness and confusion, and Claire Holt is compelling as his classmate/crush whose innate goodness entices Don back into the fold. Surreal comic relief is provided by Justn Welborn, who’s serving out his tenure as Reed’s official designated “pope.”
Taylor and his crew clearly believed in this film, as they now hold the distinction of being the largest budget project ever funded through the crowd funding site Kickstarter. They also appear to have made a convincing case to the estate of John Coltrane. Excerpts of “A Love Supreme” can be heard in the film, and Miller’s onscreen father uses it as a primer to explain the mysteries of the Universe to his son. “Life is like jazz,” he says. “it never resolves.”. Donald ends up seeing things differently, but BLUE LIKE JAZZ works because it convinces us that he’s chosen his beliefs for himself.
BLUE LIKE JAZZ is now playing at select theatres. For tickets and showtimes, visit www.bluelikejazzthemovie.com