“My dad says life is like jazz because it doesn’t resolve… But what if we’re not alone?… What if all these stars are notes on a page of music, swirling in the blue… like jazz…”
This drama, based on the 2003 memoir/best-selling book by Donald Miller, follows a young devout Southern Baptist man from Texas who goes takes a trip of self-discovery in Portland, Oregon as he goes to Reed College, “the most godless campus in America.”
Miller also co-writes the screenplay with writer/cinematographer Ben Pearson and director/screenwriter/producer Steve Taylor. Taylor and Pearson also worked together on the 2006 feature drama Second Chance. All three filmmakers also provide the insightful audio commentary to the film.
The main character, Miller himself, is younger than in the book, which is the most notable difference between the two works. Marshall Allman (TV’s Prison Break) has a breakout lead performance as Miller followed closely behind in quality by his fellow college students portrayed by Claire Holt, Tania Raymonde (TV’s Cold Case, Lost), and Justin Welborn.
These four actors create an amazingly personal core experience where genuine care, heartfelft emotions, and character backgrounds all factor into various debates on existence of God. This approach works as opposed to driving the film driven by themes. Current religious perspectives are all addressed in realistic, honest ways anchored by strong acting.
Don’s new college experience opens a world with differing views and actions on meaning, purpose, grace, and even civil disobedience. Hamilton, Ohio native Eric Lange plays Don’s father, an atheist/teacher who is nicknamed the Hobo due to his voluntary living conditions…divorced from Don’s mother, played by Jenny Littleton.
After dramatic personal and family related turns in his life, Don questions everything, especially his faith. He’s definitely not himself as he arrives at Reed College. Don initially concentrates on his career development and writing talents then begins expanding his social and intellectual skills partly due to his dad’s informal challenge. “You only believe that stuff ‘cuz you’re afraid to hang out with people that don’t,” he says to Don.
So Don begins expanding his social network and experiencing different life perspectives. Once he’s close enough to Lauryn (Raymonde) she gives him the following advice:
Lauryn: Your private, religious, wacko beliefs are none of my business, but if you plan on sticking around long enough to unpack your secret underwear or whatever, you probably want to keep that quiet around here.
Don: What’s wrong with being a Christian?
Lauryn: Do you have any idea what your hateful, bullying tribe has been up to? Cause around here, you represent a whole new category of despicable. So, if you plan on ever making friends, or sharing a bowl, or seeing a human vagina without a credit card, get in the closet, Baptist boy, and stay there.
Don’s behavior shifts especially as fellow student Kenny, played by experienced actor Jason Marsden, becomes Don’s rival and when Don gets a visit from his hometown friend Jordan, played by William McKinney. “Start pushing people away they leave you alone with your thoughts with your demons,” says Don.
This journey to learn and listen to all perspectives challenges audiences. The characters question God, read the Bible, and embrace sinful practices yet all these actions reaffirm some characters’ faith and life direction. This resolution does not mean any one is any better by end as the film acknowledges the search for answers to our questions. The only real way to being understanding is to submit that God’s understanding is far behind our comprehension then follow Jesus’ path through the Bible.
Blue Like Jazz demonstrates impressive filmmaking including superb camera work, cinematography, editing plus some unique animation sequences, especially Don’s initial trip to the college, and the constant “spaceman” sequences that link Don’s “SCCR” writing process and the plot. Filmmakers represent the college experience well, but, as they mention in the special feature, one that remains at the end of spectrum.
The extra features include the standard “making of” featurette, deleted scenes, photo gallery, and theatrical trailer plus specific featurettes on the cast, animation, and music. The “Master Class: Directing Actors on Set” featurette and “This is My Story” featurette blends the filmmaking process and Miller’s source material well while the “Save Blue Like Jazz” featurette chronicles the amazing fundraising efforts that earned the film a Hall of Fame ranking on KickStarter as the highest funded project ever.
The dialogue and music soundtrack sounds great in the Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. The ending “Oh, Pretty Boy, You’re Such a Big Boy” song by Menomena is a standout on the music soundtrack. Subtitles are available in English and Spanish
Blue Like Jazz is 106 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for mature themes, sexuality, some language and drug and alcohol content. As in many films, the profanity could easily be replaced with a sound bleep, especially since there is no need to distinguish the profane word differences. Audiences can see the character speaking the profanity emits these words in extreme situations where many people would predictably use these words (only hypocrite should be kept…if it qualifies as profanity).
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler