Christian themes, but off-key
A Christian movie, yes. A family film, no.
Director Steve Taylor issued that caution to potential investors in a movie based on Donald Miller's best-selling book Blue Like Jazz. The resulting film is rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, sexuality, drug and alcohol content, and some language.
It's an irreverent, uneven look at a college student (Marshall Allman) who spurns Christianity and spends a year trying to find his way back - he doesn't know that, but we do. The movie is structured like the elements of a story, as he learns in writing class: setting, conflict, climax, and resolution.
Don's life takes several unexpected turns when his divorced dad, a deadbeat when it came to child support, suddenly offers him the chance and money to attend progressive Reed College in Portland, Ore., instead of the Baptist school that awarded him a scholarship.
"A brain like that, working for a church. You only believe that stuff because you're afraid to hang out with people who don't," Don's father says. He suggests Don be like jazz and improvise.
And the Texas teen does, heading for a school where he encounters cars with bumper stickers such as "I found Jesus, He's drunk in my backseat," a student who dresses like the pope in and out of class, and a girl who informs him, "We haven't had a Christian club since the Nixon administration."
Don's anger at the church - and specifically a youth pastor who is the opposite of a role model - coincides with his newfound liberation and experimentation. He falls in with a girl (Claire Holt) who champions a number of causes, including the Bible, but he finds himself using the church as a punch line.
Blue Like Jazz makes Reed College (a real place where the annual tuition is $42,540) a little too zany to be believed. The fake pope rousts students in the middle of the night to stage a book-burning that no one is around to witness, an offensive prank is pulled on a church, and a costumed bear prowls around.
Questions of faith are addressed too little in mainstream, quality releases. But just making a movie about religion isn't enough; the story has to fit the big screen and high expectations, and Blue Like Jazz strikes too many wacky and off-key notes.