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Blue Like Jazz

Junior-college golden boy Don (Marshall Allman) is gearing up to attend a Baptist university in the fall and fielding warnings from members of his suburban-Houston congregation that the school has gotten "way more liberal." When his layabout nonbeliever dad calls in a favor and enrolls him in Portland, Oregon's, Reed College, Don angrily refuses to change the plan—until he learns his beloved mother is having an affair with the youth pastor he works under, at which point Don flees to the famously permissive institution. He doesn't so much clash with the campus alt-mores as heedlessly embrace them, especially after a new friend advises Don to keep his faith in the closet. (The good-natured skewering of the double standards held by both the closed-minded folks Don grew up with and the run-amok undergrads is often a cut above the usual indie-comedy mock shock.) Co-writer/director Steve Taylor—adapting a best-selling memoir with its author, Donald Miller, and Ben Pearson—proceeds to paint Reed as a cartoon bastion of every stereotypical left-coast ism imaginable. A tweaked-out guy wearing a papal miter and pushing a shopping cart stalks the quad. Don himself tags along for several coordinated activist stunts (he disrupts business as usual at a corporate bookseller and defaces a bottled-water billboard), and even broadly denounces religion during seminar discussion, much to the exasperation of do-gooder crush Penny (Claire Holt), who shapes up to be the bratty protagonist's conscience in matters of faith and family. Blue Like Jazz, which premiered at South by Southwest, departs from the typical Christian movie in that it sensibly preaches tolerance and personal integrity over indoctrination, holding no animus toward Reed's "godless" student body. One only has so much patience, though, for watching Communion-wafer-thin characters caught in a liberal-arts cartoon.

 
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4 comments
John Wilems
John Wilems

Thanks for the interesting re-cap review, Ben. I would push the critique a bit further, though. Worse than its wretched boredom, grotesquely bland plot line, and incomparably shallow commentary on Christianity, culture, Reed College and the world in general, this movie sacrifices Miller's own mother.

The whole introduction with his mom having sex with the youth pastor, getting pregnant by him, and all that is fake. "But he made it sound like this was a 'true' memoir...a story about a his own 'real' struggle with faith and life," you might say. We all had good reason to think that, but we've been played, by Miller, who threw his own mother and church under the bus to turn a buck. Ask yourself, even if your mom was "cool" with it, would you back a "true- story" movie that portrayed her to the entire world as a sex-starved idiot if it wasn't true?

This movie will undoubtedly experience an initial explosion of the same kind of interest you might witness if somebody were publicly mocking a handicapped person or punching a child in the back...everyone's attention is certainly grabbed, but you still feel sick to your stomach. After Miller and this movie are exposed for what they both are, malcontent and ignorantly boring, the premature and ill-considered commendations for Blue Like Jazz will shrink out of the limelight, back to where they belong: on the stale, played-out, cliché shelves of whiny charlatans.

For that reason, avoid the trap and save your time, money, and mind. Miller is apparently so amused by his own semi-intellectual babblings that he has made no effort whatsoever to learn about the world that exists beyond his initial, juvenile impressions. Worse, he has through this movie subjected thousands to the horrible void of his unchecked pride. Longing to be accepted, Miller humiliated himself like the desperate boy on the playground who takes on a self-deprecating dare and trashes his own reputation just to get a chuckle from curious onlookers. Suckered in by the promise of fame, and he gathered the cool kids together and started mocking his family, his church, his Savior and himself. All things considered, two hours of doing absolutely nothing will be more profitable to you than exposing yourself to this this heartbreaking absurdity.

Jordan Green
Jordan Green

You should've just published the final sentence. The rest is just a summary.

The depiction of college life is cartoonish, but so is the depiction of Christianity. I think that's generally what they were going for here in conveying the dichotomy between these two cultures. I mean, at heart, it's a comedy, and comedy is about extremes.

I can absolutely see the broad depictions of both being a target of criticism. Many Southern Baptists will no doubt see the portrayal of their culture as unfair, as well, but I'm going to assume that was part of the point.

Jonathon Burns
Jonathon Burns

Regarding your thoughts on the depiction of Reed: Donald Miller has said that the representation in the film is a very accurate look at Reed. He has also said the administration of Reed had a read a copy of the screenplay when they were seeking permission to film there and also noted the accuracy.

 

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