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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