Blue Like Jazz — A Film Review by Gary Chew
You may ask yourself after watching a few minutes of Blue Like Jazz what a nice college-aged Houston boy and devout Baptist is doing driving his beat up car to Portland, Oregon to enroll at Reed College. His name is Donald (Marshall Allman).
Donald is not what most people think a young Christian man from Texas would be like. Donald’s pretty hip and glib with one-liners. Since it’s the lead, is probably why director Steve Taylor has Allman playing Kenny as an agreeable nice guy who shows hardly any bad feelings toward people who have no faith or place of worship, even those with such an attitude “emblazoned on their sleeve,” so to speak.
But when it comes to his divorced mom having an affair with the, uh, assistant pastor who’s in charge of “puppet ministry” at Donald’s church, well, “ballistic” is the only word that comes to mind. Donald gets so fired up, that he takes his dad’s offer of going to Reed College* (in that “dreadfully” liberal Portland) to get away from his mom and the assistant pastor.
Donald’s father is a reclusive rather gnarly old liberal university professor who digs Coltrane and thinks the churchgoing former wife is dipsy doodle. Donald is cool about it all, but really unhappy about the mom affair thing with a man of the cloth.
Excuse my Freudian Slip, but I think Donald’s Oedipus Complex is showing.
Thus on a lamely written motivation, Donald motors to Portland, then proceeds to become a liberal to spite his mom and her married preacher lover.
Donald first hooks up with the campus’s hottest lesbian, Lauryn. She’s from Kansas. Tania Ramonde plays the role. Then he gets to know the quite straight, pretty and “together” Penny. Clair Holt handles that part.
This is a clever way to not have any sex in the film, although there are a fair amount of gags that relate to sex, including the obligatory toilet humor. But Blue Like Jazz, in its desire to hang on the periphery of R-rated topics, is so R-less, no one in it gets to say “fuck.”
A couple of quotes are sort of worth mentioning: the lesbian says to Donald, something like, “…you’ll never see a human vagina without a credit card.” That’s snappy. And from the more intellectual segment of the screenwriting team there’s this: “The universe doesn’t owe us any meaning. If you want meaning, I suggest a dictionary.”
That might be the only funny line spoken in the film.
Justin Welborn has the supporting role of the Pope. No, not the man who lives at the Vatican, but the “Pope” who goes around campus in a Pope costume making a gigantic ass of himself as the cartooned embodiment of a non-believing, irresponsible student activist out to, for the sake of enlightenment, give the world nihilism.
Oh no. Not another one of those. I remember the Sixties.
Thereon, Blue Like Jazz is a series of sequences that get sillier and sillier, but continue shallowly stereotyping their way along to say: all Christians are really dumb (except This Donald) and that all those on the Reed campus who neither have faith nor attend religious worship (which is the entire student body) are even dumber.
Those responsible for this script are director Taylor, Donald Miller (yip, that’s the Donald) and Ben Pearson. The screenwriters have done an excellent job of fictionalizing it, as the story comes from the semi-autobiographical novel by Miller that’s ridden high on the New York Times Best Seller List.
Call me crazy, but now doesn’t seem to me to be a good time to release such a film, unless it’s been created merely to mock and exploit the current bad feelings between the religious and those who don’t choose to be. But hey, for me, freedom of artistic expression is sacrosanct even if it sucks. (There are “good examples of that almost everywhere.) So people who’ve put Blue Like Jazz together: knock yourselves out. But don’t expect to me to be watching your next piece of cinema as art.
Writing the goofy, vacuous scenes must have caught up with the screenwriters in time before the team finished, so they try to bring everything around for there to be a grain of satisfaction for the audience and, hopefully, not totally insulting just about everyone who sees the movie, whatever their beliefs.
This is the worst news of all for Blue Like Jazz. The ending doesn’t work either. The turning-the-corner effort is like all that precedes: immature, over-their-heads, slapdash pontificating. And suddenly dumping the thinly written mockery to be replaced with a cheesy reversal to “we’re-really-cool-grownup-college-students” puts a very sour cherry on top this flick.
The movie’s topic of choice has as much gravity as anything in a society.
Anyone I would totally disagree with on religion and philosophy for living a life, I believe, would be just as put off by this dud as I was. At least, I hope so.
Categorizing the film, I’d put it in a niche all to itself: Creepy Comedic Spiritual. I’d also slug a written article about “Blue Like Jazz,” Film Like Dumb.
John Coltrane would not be amused.
*Reed College, where some of the film was shot, is located in Portland on Woodstock Boulevard. Need I say more?