Blue Like Jazz- A Movie Worth Saving

22 Mar

In 2008, on his cross-country bike ride.

I am a long time fan of Donald Miller. Seven years ago, I got a hold of  Blue Like Jazz. It was one of those books that came just at the right time. I was in the middle of  touring with a youth ministry, and many of my life-long beliefs were beginning to unravel right in front of me. I remember reading Miller’s words and feeling  free in a way I didn’t think was possible.

He gave me permission to question my faith.

He helped me begin to realize life wasn’t neat and tidy, that like jazz music, it doesn’t resolve.

Through his books, I also began to find my voice as a writer. I realized I too could write in a way that was deeply personal, exposing the mess that was me, so that other people could feel like they were not alone and come on this journey with me. For years my one goal was to be a “female Donald Miller.” I don’t claim to write as well as him, or in the same hilarious self-deprecating style, but I just wanted to be honest. I wanted to be free from the fear that because I believe in Jesus and feel “called” to be a writer, I have to give people step-by-step Sunday School answers.

Miller opened up a new conversation in the church that has become mainstream. (Even the phrase “open up a new conversation” was unheard of before 2005!) Blue Like Jazz beckoned a whole subculture to come out of the woodwork: us 20-somethings who have grown up in church and became disillusioned. He voiced our struggle with re-learning to love Jesus after cynically abandoning our parent’s religion.

That being said, I think my expectations were a little too high when I went to the pre-screening of Blue Like Jazz the movie last night. I had followed Don’s journey of trying to make his life into a movie through his most recent book, A Million Miles in A Thousand Years, so I already knew facts were going to be changed. I mean, they had to be, right? Even the best producers can’t take a rambling poetic memoir and turn it into a 90 minute watchable story, right?

I tried to disconnect myself from my love for Don’s words when I watched the movie but I just couldn’t. I was still taken by surprise by a few things, both positively and negatively.

1. Most of it was fictionalized. This is the part I had a hard time with. I love fiction, and I believe it holds a deeper truth that helps us understand life, but I think because the book was such a personal memoir, I almost felt cheated, like a friend was lying to me about their life. I know, I know, maybe I took it too personally. Trust me, I wanted to disconnect myself and see the movie as it was: another story in itself, a separate piece of art, but I found it almost impossible to do so. I am usually pretty opened-minded when it comes to seeing that a movie needs to be different from a book, it is inevitable. But again, maybe because I felt so personally connected to the memoir, I felt annoyed that it was so fictionalized.

2. It was hilarious. I know Don is funny, but I wasn’t expecting the movie to be a comedy. I mean, I laughed during most of it. The comedy in it was random and quirky, almost giving it a Napoleon Dynamite feel. I mean, I almost peed my pants at a few parts.

3. It was not cheesy. Despite the fact everyone has said that this is different then any “Christian” movie made, I was still expecting maybe some bad acting or cheesy dialogue. The dialogue was as witty as heck, and the acting was good. I was honestly more impressed with Claire Holt (Penny) then I was with Marshall Allman (Don.) But, overall it was convincing. They didn’t try to tame down or Christianize the reality of a party college which was refreshing.

I wasn’t a fan of the random animation spots though, I think it would have been better without them.

4. The entire story of making the movie made it more meaningful. Hearing from the director Steve Taylor share that this project has been six years in the making, knowing that it was dropped by financial backers only to be saved by some ordinary fans who started a kickstarter page and raised $345,992 from 4,495 backers. Realizing this was a completely independent movie in every sense of the word, made it extra special.

It gave me hope for all the story-tellers out there that love Jesus but hate that when the words “christian” and “movie” are together, most people cringe.

People came together and made something happen. They told a story that is more than just the life story of one guy who grew up  fairly sheltered in Church, then lost his faith in college, only to find it again through the most unexpected means.

It’s about people’s misconceptions of God, and the power of simply letting people know He is so much more loving than us flawed humans portray Him as.

It’s a story that resonates with so many, and that’s what made Blue Like Jazz worth saving.

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