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Blue Like Jazz
Blue Like Jazz isn't what I was expecting it to be. Though, to be frank, I really wasn't sure what it was I was even expecting. I had heard a few good things about the Donald Miller book by the same name. I wondered if the film would be appealing to someone like me. Blue Like Jazz was so surprising to me because it was real. It was flawed, to be sure, but so is everything else too.
Okay. So, before I continue...
I need to fill you in on a few details first. Just in case you haven't heard of Blue Like Jazz. I wasn't always aware of it myself, so no worries if you are entirely new to hearing about it. I might as well begin by saying that I have read only a small fraction of the book written by Donald Miller. It's something I want to read in entirety sometime. He wrote a book that in essence is a compilation of essays and thoughts on Christianity today. Unlike some of his contemporaries, Miller is more open about his own feelings regarding his Christian faith.
As stated earlier, the book works primarily as a collection of thoughts and essays. To adapt this format to a feature film there were changes made to tell a more linear story. This led the script writing team of Donald Miller, Ben Pearson, and Steve Taylor to work to figure out a way to adapt things in a far different-than-normal approach. Most books turned into films aren't left with that kind of obstacle in front of them. Blue Like Jazz works surprisingly well given that understanding.
First things first: The script shifted Donald Miller from being a thirty-something reflecting upon his past and writing about it to instead focusing in on Donald Miller, now a college student who enrolled in and is attending a highly "progressive" campus, Reed College. Miller encountered a "game-changing" event at his old Church that made him throw into question his entire belief in the Church and in religion. This clearly isn't a part of a typical conversation found in a film all about faith.
Miller first contemplates how he feels about a college different from his past experiences but after a while he begins to drift into negativity and a lack of self-understanding. Yet there is much for Miller to learn from his fellow students, who teach him not only about their own experiences but about his own. He comes to get an understanding of himself through these beautiful connections with others.
This is not a film with an agenda against people: Instead, rather, it's the first film I am absolutely certain was made to embrace people with a variety of viewpoints on spirituality and faith. Miller wonders why he turned his back on his faith at times, and he poses this question to anyone who might need to hear it.
The film itself isn't specific about its feeling towards religious institutions (other than to arrive at the conclusion that Church-going isn't a bad thing) but it also doesn't present or try to sway viewers into feeling like the only solution to spirituality is to be found in the Church. This is a different approach that any modern Christian films that I have personally seen before and it is refreshing to see a film that is truly meant to be for anyone who believes in God and not only those of a particular and specific religion.
The film is inconsistent when looked at with a filmmaking perspective. Some scenes just don't ring as true as you would like them to because of some relatively poor development and some strange attempts at humor. The scene with Miller and his father plays somewhat comically in tone and style but isn't really comedic.
If the film has any major disappointment factor it's that it seems to think of itself as something akin to a silly teen comedy at times and almost as frequently as it considers itself as a serious philosophical and spiritual piece about the quest and acceptance of our personal faith. Your mileage might vary somewhat, but I thought the film was better with deep ponderings and character-based moments than any attempt at getting the audience to laugh.
The film has many strong performances by young actors. Marshall Allman has an earnest sense to him that manages to hold the film together nicely and he is supported by several other strong performers in Claire Holt, Tania Raymonde, and Justin Welborn. You will be impressed by the strength in spirit found with the performances by these talented actors. They all do exceptional work with their material and make the film as convincing as possible, and I grew to care about these characters through the performer's excellence.
I am a Christian and I am similar (relatively speaking) to the main character in the film, Donald Miller. I have had moments of blistered faith. I have had moments of upmost confidence in the design of the universe, world, and the beating heart of humankind. I believe we all come from somewhere of a higher-degree. We all stem from a creator in my view and our creator is God.
I imagine there are many people out there who doubt the existence of God. It isn't always easy being capable of admitting that we live in a world where there is much that is uncertain, and belief in God is inherently an act of faith. But this hasn't managed to stop me from believing.
I see the stem of God through so many pathways of good: the establishment of family, the world of animals and creatures inhabiting our forests, oceans, and skies. The food that naturally grows in earth: watermelon, potatoes, corn, and countless food. There's too much to list in one review. Pondering our existence and my very being always leads me to consider these important aspects of understanding humanity.
I see God in humanity's capacity for good things to happen. I see God in the beauty of the world. I see God In the air that I breathe. I see God In the air that I breathe out. You can feel connected to God daily just by being.
It sounds simple, doesn't it? The easy answer is to say that it is simple. Faith is so simplistic; it isn't something anyone would ever have struggles with, right? As I said... that's a really easy answer to give to people. Miller doesn't give out the easy answer.
Miller takes the difficult roadway with obstacles in front of him. He is someone who struggled with himself and with his faith. He writes and explores this for other Christians who might be experiencing similar things -- in the past or present. If you want to see this movie, all I ask is this: Does that sound like you?
I'll say this much: It sounds like me, and at the end of the day, I still know that I have my faith.
Blue Like Jazz is presented in 1080p High Definition with an AVC encoded transfer which has preserved the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1:78:1 widescreen. The film has a sleek look to everything about it, because the cinematography has a nice modern edge. It isn't the best of all transfers out there, though. The colors are somewhat muted and the appearance is sometimes a bit more akin to a nicely produced television episode than to a theatrical film. The transfer is a clean and pleasant experience nonetheless.
The English language 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio presentation is more robust than I was ever expecting. There's a lot of good directionality to the audio and it manages to have some neat sound effects throughout. The film's score by Danny Seim is also pleasant accompaniment, surprisingly strong, and helping the film in many key moments. It is something which does round everything out rather smoothly.
There are quite a few supplements on this release. I was surprised by how much effort went into this section of the release. Fans will be pleased. Please note: The included extras are all in High Definition (though the commentary's presented in standard 2.0 audio; certainly no deal breaker).
Commentary with Director Steve Taylor, Original Author Donald Miller and Cinematographer Ben Pearson.
This was pretty interesting from what I listened to. I liked that none of them talked about the film as it if were a perfect film but instead they even mention parts they struggled making. It helps the film seem even more grounded in its worthy ambitions to know that it actually was a film where the filmmakers had some struggle figuring things out artistically.
Making Blue Like Jazz (11:40) is a behind the scenes piece about the making of the film. It has some interviews and footage of the filming.
The Music (6:24) is a strange piece about the music in the film. It is essentially just an interview with the composer, but he talks quite a bit about his dog, makes some sly jokes, and appears to be stoned or something. It's pretty funny actually.
Save Blue Like Jazz (2:48) explains about how the film almost wasn't made and how production was stalled for a short time before being saved, literally, by the fans of the book hoping to see the film version produced.
The Cast (4:18) features short moments and interviews with the cast members talking about the experience they had making the film.
The Animator (1:19) is a creative piece in which a young boy with a painted face explains in brief about the contributions of the film's animator, Jonathan Richter. It's pretty comical too.
This is My Story (3:15) explains through brief snippets of interview thoughts about how the book Blue Like Jazz had a significant impact on a number of people.
Deleted Shots (1:56) is perhaps the funniest collection of deleted moments I have ever seen contained on any film release. These moments can be amongst my least-favorite extras just because of the nature behind watching excised footage. Deleted scenes or shots are usually removed because the material isn't on par with the film itself. This is no exception. But the included notes/comments on why the material was removed had me laughing. Funny stuff!
Master Class: Directing Actors on Set (3:46) is basically a short-film with a comedic tone in looking at how the director worked with everyone to make the film. It's also funny. It has a significant number of Lost and The Hunger Games references.
Lastly, things are rounded out with the original theatrical trailer, a photo gallery, and trailers promoting other Lionsgate releases.
Blue Like Jazz is genuine. The film isn't perfect from a film-making standpoint, but it still is worthwhile for what it is attempting. Few films actually attempt to talk about Christian faith while exploring issues of self-doubt and discovery amidst open confusion about the world at large. Blue Like Jazz isn't judgmental, either. It's worth seeking out for anyone spiritual who wants to see a film exploring these themes. I do ponder this though: why aren't more films in line with the spirit of Blue Like Jazz made? It's wonderful to see filmmakers exploring spirituality through storytelling. Art and storytelling bring us closer to God, the greatest artist.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.