Monday, April 16, 2012

Blue Like Jazz: A Second Look (6/10)

*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 Penny’s motivation for going to India could have just been replaced by secular philanthropy or a hipster-like altruism.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.

1 comment:

  1. Justin,

    Loved the commentary. I honestly agree with most, if not all, of your points. This film was really hard for me to review objectively since I loved the source material so much. I do think that "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years" made my perspective even more skewed since I know all that went into making this project. Having said that, I completely agree with your take on the Texas scenes (less so with the Reed stuff). I did not like the youth pastor/mother affair; not because I was offended-I just thought it was dumb/unnecessary. Penny, in the book, was an activist so the billboard scene felt consistent with her character. I agree with your take on the confession booth scene as well. I think the book's portrayal of the confession booth had more meaning and relevance than the scene in the movie. However, I did enjoy the scene in the movie even though Don somehow made some prescient inferences about "the pope." How did he know what happened to that guy anyway? In the end, I was okay with the film because it was presented in a way that didn't make me cringe. I was probably too accepting of its shortcomings. I will have to see it again with a more critical eye. Thanks for the review Justin!