*WARNING: Spoilers ahead*
So, Blue Like Jazz finally became a movie. I went into the theater the other night with blithe curiosity. I remember when I first read the book a little over a year ago. I had some reservations at first, because the evangelical community didn’t know what to do with Donald Miller. When I finally read it, I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed Miller’s wit and romp through the evangelical culture I knew too well. However, the movie falls short in comparison to the book that inspired it.
While Miller’s book is faithful and wrestles with real issues in the Christian life, the movie seemed weird to me. There were times I was confused at why the movie did something it did (DISCLAIMER: I haven’t read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years so maybe I missed out on some key screenwriting details).
The whole movie give the impression of a caricature (maybe that was the point), with the scenes in Texas seemingly written by the New York Times’ religion correspondent and the scenes at Reed college looking like Focus on the Family’s worst nightmare. The whole mom/youth pastor pregnancy thing seemed like a weird addition. The movie is rife with stereotypes (e.g. the social justice Christian, hypocritical pastor, etc.) and the characters mostly felt flat to me. I guess there just seemed to be unnecessary writing choices. Like Penny and Don’s campy climb up the Aqualike billboard. I just thought, “Why?”
I don’t know, it just didn’t wow me. The film just felt kind of “meh.”
Here’s the thing though: The movie is conceived to be a more honest voice of evangelical Christianity (than, say, Fireproof). But in this attempt at frankness, Blue Like Jazz the movie ends up not really saying anything at all. I know that this isn’t necessarily a “Christian” movie, and I didn’t go in expecting to be presented the Gospel in a powerful, postmodern monologue about salvation. But I at least thought there might be some hints as to what Miller’s solution is for those burned by the church. The movie doesn't show cynics anything distinctive about following Jesus. Penny’s motivation for going to India could have just been replaced by secular philanthropy or a hipster-like altruism. There’s no hint at the inherent dignity that human beings possess by being made in the image of God, or Christ’s example, or working for the “common good” that Christianity teaches.
Unlike the memoir, where the confession booth scene is both humble and moving, the film ends with the impression that Christians need to apologize for their faith. In the book, the confession booth is an entryway into articulating what the Gospel is really about. The movie misses this point. People would do better to read the book.