When I was on foreign study my junior year, a bunch of different books were passed around amongst our group. The only one I remember is Blue Like Jazz, a book that most of us burned through, loved, dissected, and some I think had a second go at it while we were visiting ancient church sites and Roman ruins.
Blue Like Jazz is a signpost in my own journey. It was one of those things that cracked a window and let a little more light into how I saw faith and the world around me. Donald Miller’s reflective and confessional essays helped me feel like that I was not alone with my questions. I read a lot of books every single year, but nearly ten years later Blue Like Jazz still stands out as a special book.
So it was with excitement and some fear that I attended a screening of the film adaptation of Blue Like Jazz with EA in Greenville. It is the same fear that most people have when a beloved book is adapted to the big screen. The only difference is, unlike Harry Potter, fans of this book won’t show up dressed as their favorite characters.
(Actually that’s not true at all. A couple showed up dressed like Don Rabbit and Sexy Carrot. And I am jealous that I did not think of that. I could’ve come as Tony the Beat Poet, who in my head looks like Jamie from Mythbusters. But I’m getting way off topic.)
I had nothing to fear. First from a technical standpoint, it is a solid film. The direction and cinematography are great. The acting and screenplay, which are typically a minefield when we’re talking about movies with Christian themes, are top notch. There weren’t any moments of pure Wisconsin cheddar. I didn’t cringe when Don or any other character talked about faith. The story felt real and genuine. It was honest and unforced.
Part of why the story felt real is that it did not sanitize the elements. Blue Like Jazz has profanity, drug use, binge drinking, frank talk about sex and sexuality, and other elements that will probably make church folks down here balk. In a Q&A afterwards, Miller and director Steve Taylor talked about the fact that showing those things weren’t endorsements, but they were seeking to show life as it is. Life and faith were honestly shown as messy and I appreciated that. I think this movie will resonate with people outside the church bubble because of that.
In the end, both EA and I truly loved the movie. The spirit of the book that grabbed me nine years ago courses through the film. It isn’t perfect but it is very, very good and it exceeded my expectations. Kudos and thank you to Miller, Taylor, and cinematographer/co-writer Ben Pearson. Also thanks to them for being gracious enough to talk, sign books, and pose for pictures afterwards. You can probably only hear people say, “It was great” so many times without it getting a bit annoying so thanks for at the very least pretending like we weren’t annoying.
I’ll post some more thoughts as the movie gets closer to its April 13 premiere, but with the exception of kids and young teenagers, you should see Blue Like Jazz and, if you can, see it opening weekend. We need more films like it.