Why I Hope Blue Like Jazz the Movie Does (Really) Well #bluelikejazz

Last week I got to see an advanced screening of Blue Like Jazz – I liked it and I give it an A- and I hope you go see it as soon as it comes out on April 13th. It’s an indie movie, so its theater run will be directly related to the success of its release in the opening weekend.

For those who are unfamiliar with BLJ (and Don Miller), it was a very popular book that was released back in 2003. The subtitle was “Non-Religious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality” and it especially resonated with countless young adults who were/still are frustrated with the idea of organized religion (and several aspects of the Christian subculture). It became a New York Times bestseller and Don became a bit of an anti-hero for the jaded church brats (like me).

Then he became a regular on the Christian speaking circuit which caused some to burn their BLJ books. This is probably more appropriate for a different post but this reminds me of those who stopped listening to Arcade Fire when they won the Grammy in 2011. What is about rejecting something that we liked so much but now hate it because it’s mainstream? Seems to me that we ought to celebrate the times when the mainstream gets it right. Frankly, it just comes across as snobby and this post may be in reaction to that type of criticism.

Personally, I want more writers like Don and more movies like Blue Like Jazz. Not imitations, just good, honest, “unresolved but trying to resolve” stories and storytellers. For those who have never read anything by Don, he writes in a casual yet blunt memoir style. He’s intelligent, he’s funny and he gets away with a good bit because he’s self-deprecating. Perhaps one of the key pieces to his popularity is that people don’t really want to be Don Miller. They may want his success, his platform, parts of his story but I don’t know anyone that wants to be him. Why? Well, as he will tell you, he’s got issues – he reminds you of that regularly.

Again, that’s why so many resonate with him. Especially in 2003 when it seemed that everyone who was writing had their act together. We like stories and movies about people who don’t have their act together and that’s why Blue Like Jazz the movie works.

The movie is about a graduating senior, you guessed it – named Don Miller – who is a church youth group volunteer, a good son, and has planned to attend a Christian college in Texas. At his last Sunday in church, he finds himself betrayed by his most trusted relationships. He takes his father up on his offer to attend the well-respected, progressive Reed College in Portland, WA. “Baptist boy” comes on campus and his paradigm is radically altered.

The movie is about his resignation of believing in God, a search for his true identity, a girl named Penny, understanding the dynamics of family and friendship, redemption and rediscovering God. There are a number of themes here that most people can relate to.

I liked that Steve Taylor directed it. He’s been around the Christian subculture scene enough to know what’s not going to work with the audience that he wants it to work for. I admire his courage here. They could have decided to play this safe and gone the Courageous-Face the Giants-Fireproof route but they would been Left Behind. Even I would have set fire to my Blue Like Jazz book.

I liked that they didn’t go the Christian movie route. I like that it’s PG-13. Steve Taylor explains the rating on the movie site. “I made it clear to all our potential investors and/or heads of media companies, the vast majority of whom were fellow Christians, that this was not going to be a family movie. The reason was simple: How do you tell the story of a college kid who flees his Southern Baptist upbringing in suburban Houston to attend the ‘most godless campus in America’ without showing what that environment is like? And how can that environment be portrayed realistically in the context of a ‘family’ movie? Doesn’t have to be rated R, but it’s probably going to be PG-13, right?” Admittedly, while this has caused me to think twice about promoting this church-wide, in the long run, this is the right move.

Further, I like that I didn’t hear Switchfoot as the credits rolled … even though I like Switchfoot. And though I wished they had a bigger budget, I really like the way it was shot – it’s a cool looking movie and Ben Pearson did an absolutely fantastic job.

My hope is that the risk is rewarded. My hope is that people who are fed up with church-types and parts of the Christian sub-culture will watch it and say what a number of people said after they read the book, “Yeah that’s what I’m talking about!” I’m not expecting a cultural awakening here nor do I hope that Don Miller becomes a “superstar” religious figure – I just think his voice and this story will connect with people and I’m excited about that.

While there were some things I wasn’t sure about (I’m going to wait until after the movie is released to give my full review), I genuinely liked it. Again, it’s an A- and I hope it does well, really well.

It releases April 13th – Check out the site http://www.bluelikejazzthemovie.com/ and watch the preview here.


  1. Man, that’s great to hear, especially from a trusted source! I’m looking forward to seeing it now, whereas before I was a little nervous that this might come off as a “Christian” movie (sad that the definition there is derogatory).

  2. Thanks for your words Jason. Though there were things that frustrated me, I did think it was a good movie overall. Wished they had more of a budget but they did an incredible job with what they had. Great soundtrack too.

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