Blue Like Jazz (2012)
Director: Steve Taylor
I can’t remember the name of it right now, and have not been able to find it even after a few google expeditions, but there was a book released a few years ago about a militant atheist twenty-something who decided, as a sociological experiment to enroll in a real hardcore Christian university. Well, this movie is kind of like the opposite of that, as Donald Miller, a lifelong Christian decides to enroll (partly to spite his religious mother) at the ultra liberal secular university of Berkley. That’s the set up. Here’s a caveat. It seems to be very hard to make a religious movie that does not seem overly cloying and unapologetically manipulative in an unfair way. This movie does its best, and is at times a fun college romp, but “the message” is at all times more prominent than “the movie” if that makes any sense. I’m not saying that the message or the moral of a story should not be important mind you, just that the story itself should always take precedence, as if you botch that up, your message normally winds up being lost anyway.
I had a good friend of mine, (who has since passed away) recommend the book Blue Like Jazz to me back in 2007, and I found that it was highly readable and that Donald Miller, whether one agrees or disagrees with his politics, theology, etc, came off as a very sincere and generally likable person who had a lot of interesting life experience and neat anecdotes. The portion of that book that takes place at Berkley, if I remember right is roughly one or two chapters. The rest is a beautiful rambling stream of conscious like series of essays on other portions of Miller’s life. This movie chooses to focus on Miller before he became that fully formed storyteller that he wound up becoming, and for me, it just didn’t work all that well. In the end this movie becomes a bizarre mix of a religious message movie, a raunchy college movie (as raunchy as allowed within these parameters anyway) and an existential philosophical soliloquy. In the book it all gets tied together and becomes an enjoyable and enriching experience. In this movie it just kind of falls a little flat.