Director Steve Taylor is no stranger to Christian controversy—Google “I Blew Up the Clinic Real Good” to find out— and his new film Blue Like Jazz (based on Donald Miller’s best-selling book of the same name) is sure to help cement his reputation. Blue Like Jazz is a raw, edgy, adult-themed film, and as Taylor admitted at a recent pre-release screening, “We earn every bit of our PG-13 rating.”
Blue Like Jazz is a film about discovery, forgiveness, and redemption. The protagonist Don (played convincingly by Marshall Allman) is a wholesome, Christian-raised, upstanding youth who sets off on a journey of self-discovery. Much like the prodigal son, Don leaves home to experience the world’s oyster, to sow his proverbial wild oats, and to see how the “other half” lives.
Upon finishing high school, Don has narrowed down his collegiate choices to two: the Christian college his mother recommends or the liberal Reed College (known as the most godless campus in America) his father has pulled strings in order for Don to gain admission. Don’s father (played by Eric Lange), unlike the kingly father of the Biblical prodigal son, represents the world’s and temptations of the flesh.
When his church lets him down, Don heads to Reed College to get a new perspective, a new life, and new friends (Claire Holt, Tania Raymonde, Justin Welborn). He wants to experience everything the church has kept him from all these years: course language, alcohol, drugs, sex, rock ‘n roll— and all forms of rebellion and debauchery in between. But through these experiences, Don struggles with his knowledge of God, and his conscience begins to gnaw at him. Here lies the core conflict of Blue Like Jazz: on his journey, Don finds that self-discovery leads to self-awareness; self-awareness leads to self-centeredness, which leads to pain and ultimately hurting others.
Blue Like Jazz is a very funny movie; however, many of the jokes are at the expense of traditional Christianity, the church, and “religion” as a whole. If you can laugh at Christian foibles and church ridiculousness, you’ll find yourself laughing hard and often. The adult themes throughout aren’t gratuitous, and serve to make the movie’s point hit that much harder. All of Don’s exploits and the seemingly odd (but all too familiar) craziness of the church drive home the need for an authentic, honest relationship with God. And though forgiveness and benevolence are key themes in the film, the Gospel message of the Jesus’ resurrection and salvation is absent.
Although entertaining and pointedly humorous, this isn’t a family film. Older teens and young adults will gain valuable insight from the lessons that Don’s real-life experiences and struggles taught him, but it’s definitely for an older crowd. Blue Like Jazz is authentic, realistic, coarse, poignant, and thought-provoking—much like Donald Miller’s book.
For more details about Blue Like Jazz, check out the Christian Film Database.