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Movie Review

Blue Like Jazz

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material, sexuality, drug and alcohol content, and some language.

Reviewed by: Jessica D. Lovett

Very Offensive
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens Adults
1 hr. 49 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
April 13, 2012
DVD: August 7, 2012
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Relevant Issues
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Secular Humanism

Secular Humanism—What Is It?

Is the religion of Secular Humanism being taught in public school classrooms? Answer

What is the legal and moral role of the Bible and Christianity in the U.S.A.? Should God be separated from American government? Answer

test of Christian faith on a liberal, secular college campus


How can we know there’s a God? Answer

What if the cosmos is all that there is? Answer

If God made everything, who made God? Answer

deciding what you truly believe

novel Blue Like Jazz: Non-religious thoughts on Christian spirituality (publisher: Thomas Nelson)—on which this film is based was written by Donald Miller

fall of man to sin

Christian living

What advice do you have for new and growing Christians? Answer

CHURCH—Why should Christians go to church? How important is it? Answer

HYPOCRISY IN THE CHURCH—“I would never be a Christian; they’re a bunch of hypocrites.”

What should you do if hurt by someone who says they are a Christian?

What is goodness?

the goodness of God

Are you good enough to get to Heaven? Answer

Paradise or Pain? Why is the world the way it is?
Why is the world the way it is? If God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and loving, would He really create a world like this? (filled with oppression, suffering, death and cruelty) Answer
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Featuring: Claire Holt … Penny
Tania Raymonde … Lauryn
Jason Marsden … Kenny
Marshall Allman … Donald Miller
Eric Lange … The Hobo
more »
Director: Steve Taylor—“The Second Chance
Producer: Ruckus Films
Marshall Allman … executive producer
more »
Distributor: Roadside Attractions

“Life is like jazz, son… It never resolves.”

Based on Donald Miller’s bestselling novel, this independent film’s popularity has skyrocketed, burning pages through both the Christian and secular press, but no one really knows where to put it. It has been called a “Christian film,” but is it really? On the one hand, it addresses the deep need for Spirituality in this incoming college-age generation, who are being shaped by humanist and postmodern ideas and shows them a tangible hope of redemption. The film openly expresses the emptiness that they feel when trying to approach religion openly and are slammed with the wrong answers to their piercing questions.

On the other hand, it is crammed with angry mockery of the Church and Christianity, incessant cursing, blasphemy, crude bawdy humor, and all the superfluous and base joking that one might expect in any contemporary comedy, just out to get cheap laughs. Even though the plot has been called “groundbreaking,” it seems to me to be a modern twist on the Prodigal Son story (see Luke 15), in which we are drug along with the Prodigal on all of his rebellious, adolescent adventures,— or misadventures, as the case may be.

Even though the parody of the Christian faith throughout the film is supposedly covered over by the main character’s redemption in the end, the film’s main billing as a “comedy” unequivocally relies mainly on this poking fun at Christianity. Say a coworker teased you incessantly about something every day for years and then quickly uttered an apology one day out of the blue. Would his mumbled, “I’m sorry” be deep enough to bury the all the hurt he’d caused you in the past? The same with this film… The quick redemption at the conclusion simply isn’t outweighed by the heavy blasphemy one must wade through to get to it.

The story revolves around Donny, a staunchly Southern Baptist community college sophomore who has his conservative background and Christian faith shaken when his mother has an affair with his church’s youth minister. Lashing out from this painful experience, he enrolls in the most liberal university he can find — at the suggestion of his alcoholic, hobo father,— and commences to embark on all he previously thought of as wrong in his former life. In the beginning, the scenes of Donny’s small church on Sunday morning have the pipe organ churning out circus-like background music, highlighting the misdirection of the faith foundations in the remainder of this movie. Kenny, the youth minister, orchestrates a skit in which a Mexican puppet named “Tito” directs the children of the church to break open a cross-shaped piñata, saying that “just like a piñata had to be broken to make candy, Jesus had to die on the cross for our sins.” The children then realize that the falling “candy” is really individual containers of communion bread and wine, and they commence to distribute it to the congregation, saying that “the blood and the body of Christ is even better than candy.”

In many awkward fish-out-of-water moments, Donny finds refuge in the neutral music of Coltrane and other jazz greats. Jazz is the one place he can go where his troubles do not follow. It is sad to watch Donny shy away from defending his faith to those who antagonize him, as he “feels lost in a sea of individuality.” He notes that everyone knows “who they are” except him. This statement does show that we, as Christians, have a duty to show the new generation the contentment that is only possible in a fully-realized and grounded faith in Christ. There are several bittersweet, introspective, and even cinematically beautiful moments, but, in the end, the movie feels like a contrived collection of mildly philosophic thoughts on the nature of religion disguised as a modern collegiate-sex-comedy, in order to get disillusioned post-modernists to perhaps accidentally reevaluate their views of Christ.

The only reason I can see for a Christian to watch this film,— if they are armed well against all of the negatives it presents,— would be just to get a glimpse of the ugly stereotype of “Christian” that the unchurched sees, in order to fight it more skillfully. Yet, there are no profound truths to be discovered or any revolutions to transform the heart in “Blue Like Jazz.” Those looking for an “American Pie,” will be mad, and those looking for a “Courageous” will be disappointed.

Moral and/or spiritual cautions: High sexual and homosexual content / references to breastfeeding an animal / condom balloon placed on church steeple / women storming a men’s restroom / men in underwear / revealing women’s clothing / crude slang / brief story of a rape / wild party scene / adultery / pregnancy out of wedlock (however, no explicit nudity or explicit sex scenes) / urination / vomiting / alcohol use and drunkenness / illegal drug use / at least 20 uses of profanity / blasphemy and blasphemous one-liners, such as, “Don’t let these people [Christians] reproduce,” “Every steeple hides a sleeper cell,” and “The Bible’s meaning is hopelessly muddled.” / portrayal of Christians as being naïve, backward “wackos” / woman calls Christians “a hateful, bullying tribe” / Donny is disrespectful to his parents.

Violence: Vandalism of a car / vandalism of billboard / Donny arrested / college students disrespectfully torment bookstore patrons and employees / man burns books (but refrains from burning a Bible) / Donny throws cell phone into “holy water” / (no bloody violence).

Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Moderate

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive—If you’ve ever felt empty, or if you’ve ever wondered if there was more to life, or if you’ve ever wanted to know more about God, or if you’ve ever been hurt by the church, or if you’ve ever felt scared or angry about religion, or if you’ve ever wondered how God really thinks or feels, this is the movie for you. It’s a movie about love, acceptance, fulfillment, searching, being lost, finding your way through life and that void inside each of us that makes us constantly wonder—is this it? Is this all there is to life?

This movie is about God, but it never preaches to you once. It will completely flip your previous notions of what God is like and will comfort you by showing you that you’re not alone in your confusion and mess, and that there IS more to this life.

The acting is so authentic, and the cinematography is beautiful. I have read all of Donald Miller’s books, and this exceeded my expectations. You can’t miss this movie; the book was literally life-changing for me, and I know it will be for many others. While many people may not set foot in a church, for one reason or another, they may set foot in the theater to see this film, and if it’s the only Bible they ever read, it will clearly show them how much God loves them. It vividly shares the Gospel with both believers and non-believers alike.

I didn’t give it a moral rating, because that’s a tough call to make without an explanation. There are definitely scenes that are not “family-friendly,” but not all of the Bible is family-friendly either. It gives a real, honest, non-watered down representation of the broken world we live in—the world we need to be rescued from.
My Ratings: Moral rating: / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Tara, age 29 (USA)
Positive—There very rarely comes a movie that speaks truth as much as “Blue Like Jazz” does. Especially when you know that this movie was not created to make money or be a best big block buster hit. In fact, this movie would not have been a success, if it were not for thousands of donors and lovers of the book Blue Like Jazz, who could not sleep unless this book became a motion picture.

Rather, this movie speaks truth as to how God is misrepresented in our society and why He is not represented the way he should be. I saw this in a screening and… This is not your cheesy Christian film, with bad acting and poor filming. The cast list is amazing, and the acting is even better, along with the cinematography! Like I said “this is not your cheesy Christian film”. There are many scenes where the main character is trying to find his “true self,” through drinking and drugs. Though I do not agree with those actions myself, I realize that this film speaks truth as to how many of our teens are living their lives, therefore the movie does not escape tough issues that we often like to hide.

Just getting out of college myself, I’d say that this movie is an excellent selection to show teenagers and anyone who is in high school and ready to go to college. In fact, it would do a lot of people good if they were to see this film.

Plus, the movie is really funny, I was surprised, very entertaining. It is only playing in selected theaters, which really stinks, but do your research to find where it is playing near you! Also, you can search for discussion questions to use at your church or small group to use after seeing the movie with a group!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Kim, age 25 (USA)
Positive—…fantastic! A breath of fresh air, as far as faith-based films are concerned. Deviates considerably from the book, but this did not present a problem for me. It was well-written, with superb acting and direction. Very edgy and honest, without even a hint of false sentimentality or heavy-handed sermonizing. See it while you can. Get behind this film. Those who are offended by the content are missing the point entirely. My wish is that this film would forever alter the faith-based film industry. After “Blue Like Jazz,” the likes of “Fireproof” and “Courageous” seem extremely trite and unnecessary. Be thankful that this film exists.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Steven Adam Renkovish, age 29 (USA)
Positive—I absolutely loved this film, and I was deeply touched. It portrays a crisis of faith in an unflinching, in-your-face style that seemed appropriate to me. I’ve been there. I’ve questioned my beliefs and my core values. It’s not always pretty. It’s not always G-rated, fun for the whole family type stuff. I’m sick and tired of Christians who equate Christianity with cleanliness. The reviewer of this film missed the point entirely, focusing way too much on “objectionable content” rather than the story itself. This is a shame, because here we have a “Christian” film that doesn’t cater to squeaky clean moralists—the very types of people that Jesus spoke against. This is an amazing, authentic film that presents truth in the raw. I’ll never again view another Christian film, unless I know that it measures up to this film’s standards. I’m tired of the preaching. I’m tired of the phony come-to-Jesus moments that are typical of most Christian fare, and these films have no backbone, no grit. “Blue Like Jazz” is a film that I can get behind, because it didn’t insult my intelligence. Those are the kind of films that I’ll make time for. “Blue Like Jazz” is going to change things.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Abigail, age 50 (USA)
Positive—I found “Blue Like Jazz” to be both extremely refreshing and genuinely funny. I think that many, if not most, 20 and 30-somethings like me who grew up in the church will resonate with Don’s story as we have found our way elsewhere, befriended people we found out weren’t as terrible as we were told, and found beauty all around us. This is the story of my generation (although the ending varies for many of us). I can honestly say that this is the only “Christian” movie that I have ever recommended, as normally I cringe at how out of touch and cliché they are. Don’t watch this movie if you want ammunition to “prove” how terrible liberal colleges, lesbian friends, or being exposed to new ideas are. Watch it if you want to see where the church went wrong—and where it has brought redemption. I can safely say that I would recommend this film to Christians, non-Christians, and former-Christians alike. We all find ourselves in it, and you will leave the film pondering your own story and smiling at the beauty you find in this one.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Rain (an Agnostic), age 25 (USA)
Neutral—I applaud this movie’s attempt to tackle a something that most mainstream movies don’t, namely the spiritual journey. While I agreed with the theme/message, however, I found the film disappointing overall. I never was able to believe in the characters. They all seemed contrived and existed solely as a means to an end (to promote the filmmaker’s own religious beliefs). These beliefs are that the church is a flawed institution made up of flawed people and fundamentalists are small-minded and intolerant, but neither of these facts means that God doesn’t exist or that Jesus isn’t worth following.

Other reviewers have asked, who is this movie for? The “unchurched” won’t buy it, and “Christians” will be offended. While it is true that ATHEISTS won’t agree with the end message and FUNDAMENTALISTS may be offended, the message can easily appeal to the huge section of the population who fall into neither of these two camps and might classify themselves anywhere from agnostic to spiritual to mainstream/progressive Christian. I just wish the film was a better vehicle for the message.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Catherine, age 39 (USA)
Negative—As a Christian, I had hoped this movie would be inspirational, motivational, something that I could walk away with, that I could recommend to others. Not the case, not at all. I found the movie very disturbing and offensive, going too far in the attempt to show the reality and hopelessness of the current culture. We all know how depraved liberal colleges are, and to sit through an entire movie portraying the uselessness of that lifestyle, complete with many, many instances of vulgarity, swearing, and inappropriate behavior, seems unnecessary, at best, and self-serving, at worst.

The storyline—its reality and honesty—is a good one. But it hides behind the movie as it plays out, and you have to try to hang on for what you know the author and director are trying to say. It really is like going to a strip-tease show, only hoping that the Christian band at the end will make it all worthwhile. It wasn’t.

I sadly cannot recommend this movie to anyone—not to the unchurched, who will be confused as to how a Christian movie can endorse such content, and certainly not to the Church, who will likewise be offended by lesbian sexuality, extreme profanity, etc. Who was this movie made for?
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Sharon, age 46

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