LITTLE ROCK — Blue Like Jazz accomplishes something many films made by and for the faithful don’t. Yes, it is an explicitly Christian movie, but it does speak for those who are outsiders to the church by background or by choice.
Loosely based on the memoir by Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz follows his younger self (played by Marshall Allman) as he prepares to attend a junior college not far from his lifelong home in Houston.
Don, like almost everyone else he knows, is active in his Southern Baptist church and tends to hang out with others like him. Compared to everyone else in Don’s orbit, his Catholic pal Jordan (Will McKinney) seems like a degenerate heathen.
Don’s beliefs are shattered when he discovers that his devout mother (Jenny Littleton) has been having an affair with his smarmy youth pastor (Jason Marsden). He decides to take his estranged father’s advice and attend the more liberal Reed College in Portland, Ore.
Don winds up finding himself even more disoriented when his closest friend on campus is a lesbian named Lauryn (Tania Raymonde). He also learns that admitting his beliefs in public could quickly get himself ostracized. Because the pain of his mother’s transgression is still fresh, he gladly switches from Scripture to beer.
That’s when he meets Penny (Claire Holt). She’s as fervent an activist as the other students at Reed (their favorite activity is being disruptive at corporate-sponsored events), but she attributes her desire to make the world a better place to Jesus. While many of Don’s classmates have perceived and genuine grievances with the church, Penny is open about her involvement. This is yet another jolt for the callow, frustrated Don.
What keeps Blue Like Jazz from becoming a big-screen sermon is that Miller isn’t afraid to be perceived as first a pious and then a sacrilegious jerk. (You can spot the real Miller playing a pompous windbag in a bookstore scene.)
What’s strangely ennobling about Blue Like Jazz is that it’s about Don becoming more active and effective in his faith instead of his trying to proselytize to everyone around him. The nonbelievers have a lot to teach him.
Blue Like Jazz
Marshall Allman, Claire Holt, Tania Raymonde, Justin Welborn, Will McKinney, Jason Marsden, Matt Godfrey, Jenny Littleton
PG-13 for mature thematic material, sexuality, drug and alcohol content, and some language