I first read Don Miller's Blue Like Jazz when it was released in 2004. Officially titled "Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality", the book resonated with me and many others who were tired of the way the church had portrayed God as something other than what was embodied in the person of Christ.
Miller was honest about his struggles with his faith. Through these struggles, we find identity and discover who God is not. For those willing to ask the tough questions, I believe it takes a deprogramming in order for us to even be open to see who God really is.
The book became a best-seller and Miller has become an in-demand speaker. A couple years ago, Miller teamed up with Christian songwriter and producer Steve Taylor, with the hopes of bringing to life a screen adaptation of Blue Like Jazz.
By putting together a Kickstarter campaign, Taylor and Miller were able to raise more than three times the funds needed to produce the film. I should say at this point that I was one of the thousands of people who participated in the Kickstarter campaign. I contributed $100 to the production of the film.
However, I was wary when I was given the opportunity to view the finished product.
I just viewed a screener of the film and it turned out to be everything that I had hoped it would be.
First of all, let me say this about Christian films. With the exception of Sherwood Productions latest films (Fireproof, Facing the Giants and Courageous), the vast majority of "Christian" movies have been predictable, poorly written and embarrassingly acted. Essentially, the quality has been below that which the film-going audience has come to expect. While I don't question the intent or hearts of those participating in these projects, the end result has been films which preach to the choir, but don't have any significant impact on a world with questions, desperately in need of answers.
Blue Like Jazz was a fresh breath of air amidst the templated screenplays which have come to dominate the Christian film-making landscape.
Raw, gritty, funny, evocative, heartbreaking and joyful, Blue Like Jazz is proof that Christian film-makers can artistically tell a story that doesn't rely on stereotypes, cliches, and a neat & tidy world that doesn't exist.
The story unfolds as a college-bound Don Miller, living with his fundamentalist baptist mother, is preparing to go to a conservative school. His free-spirited trailer-home father has other notions. He has pulled strings to enter Don into Reed College in California, a campus noted for it's high IQ average. It is also a place that has been dubbed "least likely to believe in God."
We follow Miller's freshman year at Reed and the colorful cast of characters he builds relationships with along the way. I say "colorful" because the exploits that follow are packed with typical coming-of-age behavior on steroids.
We expect partying at secular college campuses. But at this version of Reed, it's not uncommon to see people dressed up a giant rabbits or bears. It's not unusual for the campus to elect a "pope" at the annual Ren Fayre. And it's not unusual to make a statement about the corporate system by flash-mobbing a local book chain dressed as robots. Happens every day, right?
In Blue Like Jazz, these unusual events become the norm quite quickly. It's an enticing world of exploration and novelty far from Miller's fundamentalist upbringing. As he immerses himself in an intellectual culture seemingly void of God, he is challenged to discover who he is and what he really believes.
I'm not a movie critic and don't pretend to be. I don't understand nuances and don't often understand why critics applaud a performance that I sometimes see as boring and lackluster. Like most of you, I just know what I like and what I don't like.
I liked the honesty of Blue Like Jazz. I enjoyed the cast. I thought the acting was believable. The setting and score were top quality. And I was moved.
The legalist in me (we all have one) was disturbed by the irreverent behavior of some characters. The true believer in me was lifted up by the honesty of the very same characters.
Miller starts the film by stating "I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn't resolve. I used to not like God because God didn't resolve. But that was before any of this happened."
I, too, used to think that God didn't resolve. It was only when I was able to put aside my pre-conceived notions of who God is and of who others have portrayed Him to be that I was able to get a glimpse of who He REALLY is.
If Blue Like Jazz aims to place that same challenge before a non-believing world desperate for something, or someone, to believe in, I believe it hits a bullseye.
Visit the official movie site at http://bluelikejazzthemovie.com/.