“Blue Like Jazz”
As a churchgoing Christian, it’s hard
to know what to make of “Blue Like Jazz.” It’s
an outside-the-box kind of movie that didn’t really have a “mainline”
studio sponsoring it, so the writers/director had to scrounge the internet for
funds, and wind up with literally thousands of “associate producers,”
which they dutifully list during the credits. It
literally took them several years to come up with enough money to start
filming, and even then, it still has the appearance of low-budget.
, also, in the kind of screenplay where it’s ¾ of the way through the movie
and you still have no idea where it’s going.
A graduating high school senior,
Marshall (Donald Miller, who looks more like 27 because he is), has decided to
go to a local bible college in
because he’s been very active in a church near there, along with his single
Mom. Despite an awkward snippet of a
pandering worship service, Marshall seems really committed to his faith, even
when his hippie Dad, whom he rarely sees, openly makes fun of religion, saying
he ought to go to someplace far away, someplace that is much more open-minded
about everything from religion to music, like Reed College in Portland,
Oregon, where he happens to know someone in the Admissions Office, and
here’s your acceptance letter son, congratulations.
Oh, and here’s my Coltrane collection.
Listen and learn.
Maybe nothing might have changed, except
that the sudden discovery that his Mom is having an affair with the married
Youth Pastor at church just rocks
’s world. He can’t believe the
betrayal, both by his Mom and his church, so he impulsively takes Dad’s
advice and drives himself to that campus he’s never seen before to enroll
for the Fall term, and it’s an eye-opener.
Because he’s from
, they assume he’s a hick, and if they find out anyone takes Christianity
seriously, they relentlessly satirize the sincerity.
It’s not exactly free love, unprotected sex, pot-smoking, and
guitar-playing, but there is beer, and people are determined to dress as
individualists (though that kind of non-style is itself a style), and
professors enjoy challenging naïve students’ prized assumptions.
Of course, all this is part of what going off to college is supposed to
finds it easy to not do anything about church, because nobody else is, either
(also a very typical pattern). He does
some crazy stunts and pulls a couple of sophomoric pranks (even though he’s
only a freshman). His best friend is a
lesbian and the girl he would really like to date, Penny (Claire Holt) seems
to only want to be his friend. But he
still wants to impress her, and when she finds out he’s not speaking to his
Mom (who’s now pregnant with the Youth Pastor’s baby), she chastises him,
which he takes to heart. She’s also
the kind of person who goes on a mission trip to
during Christmas break, and, quietly, goes to a traditional church---a place
that’s not smarmy, smug, or condescending toward culture, but actually seems
to have a likeable, down-to-earth minister who has precocious children.
attends one of those “Does God Exist?” debates at a local bookstore
(sometimes this thing feels like a 1970’s time capsule), he discovers he’s
more in tune with the man who affirms an unknowable God rather than the one
who denies even the possibility. And
when he participates in a besotted campus tradition and becomes a farcical
“Pope” and hears people’s “confessions” as a joke, he realizes that
the importance of forgiveness is not a laughing matter.
It’s an important life choice. And
so is faith.
Well, sure, it could have been done
better. But at least “Blue Like
Jazz” treats the subject of religious quest and questioning with some
sensitivity and earnestness, even if they’re trying too hard to be “hip
and cool” while doing so.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Interim Pastor,
St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church,