A few days ago, my family and I had the privilege of being invited to view a screening of the movie “Blue Like Jazz“, directed by Steve Taylor and based on the book of the same name by Donald Miller. I had been following the movie since its inception, as I was curious to see what Steve would turn out. As a friend of Steve’s, and an admitted “groupie” during his performance days with the Steve Taylor and Some Band, I have always been impressed by what he puts his hand to – from his own music, to his production of the groups Six-Pence-None-the Richer and Newsboys, as well as a myriad of other projects. Steve is known for his satire of those he believes to be hypocritical in nature or those with false religious piety.
The way this movie came about, in itself, is quite unique. About 8 years ago, a friend of mine and former boss, Jim Chaffee, of Chaffee Management Group, read Don’s book and was taken by it. He gave it to Steve, a good friend of his. After reading the book, Steve knew that he had to make this book into a film and was particularly taken by part in the book about the “confession booth.” Jim eventually became Don’s manager and was very involved in this film-making process. However, when the funding for the movie fell through, a grassroots effort was formed and a plea was made to those who wanted to see the movie come to fruition. In a month’s time, through Kickstarter, Blue Like Jazz had become funded by fans of the book. Those who funded the movie had the opportunity to have their names put in the credits as “Associate Producers” – a creatively ingenious and fun way to encourage the influx of capital to this film project. You can find out more about “Saving Blue Like Jazz” HERE.
The movie is the story of the main character’s life, coming to terms with his religious upbringing and sheltered life while attending Reed College (“the school most likely to ignore God”) in Portland, Oregon. As Jim says, “ I wouldn’t call it a typical “Christian” movie. It is made by Christians and it is a coming of age story that is faith-based and redemptive. But it takes an honest look at the reality of a student who struggles with his faith on the most godless campus in America.”
The screenwriting, acting, and directing in this movie are excellent. The movie is loosely based upon the book, and some of the names and incidents have been changed for film-making purposes, but keeps very true to the spirit of the book and is very much “true to life.” It is also superbly cast. Don’s character (“Don”) is played extremely well by Marshall Allman (“Justified”, “Prison Break”, “True Blood”). The actor, Justin Welborn (“Dance of the Dead”), does an excellent job as the school’s cynical “Pope”, and Claire Holt (“Mean Girls”, “The Vampire Diaries”), who plays Penny, Don’s love interest, and Tania Ramonde (“Malcolm in the Middle”, “Cold Case”, “Lost”) who plays Lauryn, a “live loud and proud” lesbian character, were the perfect choice of actors. This is a movie for both church-goers, and those who wouldn’t enter a church building if their lives depended on it. (You can see the trailer below.)
There is a bit of swearing, substance abuse, and sexual references. It would not be considered a “family friendly movie”, so please keep that in mind if you want to bring the kids. It is real life, and they wanted to keep the movie as true to life as possible — so it earns its PG-13 rating. It is not for teens younger than a Junior in high school.. The movie does take a stab at being “Southern Baptist”, which I think Southern Baptists need to not be turned off by, nor should non-Southern Baptists gloat over. It plays within the course of the film. Even though I think this could be viewed as a generalization, this could refer to any organization or individuals of authority that people have been hurt by, but does not intend to indicate that all involved subscribe to those offenses. I am a conservative movie-goer…in other words, I don’t watch movies with gratuitous anything — sex, violence, language, etc. Some audiences may be offended, but others will not. I personally cringed a bit at times, but it did not affect the way I viewed the movie – as a real-life story about a real life guy who has real life conflicts with real life people and his religious upbringing and how he comes to terms with it.
I think anyone who sees it can find themselves somewhere in the mix of characters. As a long-time church-goer and Christian, I saw some similarities in my growing up that I could laugh at, as well as be saddened by. Later, after watching the movie and thinking about it, I am thankful for the richness of my own spiritual heritage and journey — despite its flaws and humanness, but also realize that the church, and the people who make it up, have a lot to learn regarding grace.
I believe that this movie can speak directly and loud and clear to religious people if they are willing to hear it, and its message is much needed for Christian audiences. However, I believe it will also be well-received by those who have questioned their faith, despised Christianity, or struggled with where they belong in a spiritual context.
Although the writers and director don’t wish “Blue Like Jazz” to be placed in the “Christian movie genre category” due to the stigma that most Christian movies portray — their tidiness, typically poor acting, obviously low budgets and predictable resolution — I can guarantee that this movie, in whatever genre is it is placed, will stand out due to its excellence in craftsmanship and acting, as well as its honesty, grit, rawness and heart — and its healing properties.
Be sure to go to opening night on APRIL 13. You can find out where it is playing by CLICKING HERE. Please share with your friends! The more people that show at opening night, the more theaters will book the movie!
You can also find out more and watch the movie trailer of Blue Like Jazz at www.bluelikejazzthemovie.com.