Blue Like Jazz (film)
by M. Joshua
Blue like Jazz isn’t a Christian movie. It’s not even really an artsy indie flick. It’s more like a thing that doesn’t resolve. Wait. It does resolve. Or does it? The resolution leads into the beginning of a Christian story. Perhaps.
The book, Blue Like Jazz, served as something of a Biblical foundations guide for the person who doesn’t believe in foundations; the person who has progressed beyond modernistic allegories of ancient constructions like “foundations.” It started with the author (Donald Miller) talking about Jazz and how it doesn’t resolve and that spiritual developments are kinda like that. Then he tries to emphasize Biblical realities exclusively through narrative devices. Later, he comes back to this theme of resolution; or the lack thereof. So in that very sense, the movie and the film are similar. But past that, this is a different creature.
The creature is not Christian. It’s post-christian. Lost. Wild. Waking up next to lesbians at four AM to go put a giant condom on the steeple of the Catholic church across the street. Then it realizes that it’s just trying to escape God. So maybe it picks up the pieces and tries to see where the story goes.
One of Donald Miller’s greatest influences was Anne Lammott – the archetpyical author/Christian/honesty-emphasizer. She’s said numerous times that he only way for an author to be truly fantastic is to be painstakingly honest. That is – if they’re more raw and real with who they are on the page, so that their characters, story and setting ring true with the audience.
None of this resonates with me and Blue Like Jazz, the movie. It seems dishonest and disingenuous at many times. Much like the 22-year-old version of myself that thought it would be most impressive to tell my story as one who introduces his international doctor girlfriend to his family as his handicapped brother’s aid practiced his bagpipes for a Christmas special just before introducing her to the random Haitian guy who lives in his sister’s old room, across from the room where his ex-girlfriend-from-Maine’s sister is living. Such zany storytelling is actually the opposite of the ADHD-approved delight that it would seem to be, causing folks like my wife to fall asleep and immediately refer to the film as “boring” as she wakes up when the credits roll. My story doesn’t roll like a pre-approved highlight reel, combining all events into one dishonest story. Nor should Miller’s. He’s written extensively on the matter of not actually meeting and interacting with his dad until more recently. It’s a glaring oversight to re-write his father as one who was actually involved in his life when he was at the age of 19. This is just one criticism.
Yet, alas, there is good in this terrible monster. And I can’t help but feel like it qualifies it for a watch from anybody curious.
When Jessica called the movie boring, I couldn’t agree with her. I felt like something resonated with me: an emphasis on the disappointment of our spiritual leaders, the pain and empathy for one another as children of abandonment, and the excited hope for the future that one walks away from the film with; at least this one.
Do you ever think that your story is going to end the way it should? What do you do with disappointments? Say, “screw it! And ignore God?” Be honest!
I’ve been disappointed, but I’m not beyond hope. I’m confident, like Don Miller, that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Moreover, it’s in the tunnel.
So while this film is not going to win victory points for the “Christian camp” or even maybe the filmmakers, it will win points for the heart of crossing the Red Sea: that place of calamity that feels like nothing more than being absolutely lost – and makes you want to see and do life as a child fully alive to a Father who wants to be involved with it.
Our story in God doesn’t end with a wound. It starts with that wound getting healed. That’s one thing this film gets right.