Blue Like Jazz (2012) Review

Blue Like Jazz is an unexpected blend of the abstract and the unstoppable. It is a subtle and personal display of the tour de force many know life to be. A young man stands on the precipice of the rest of his life and learns that human frailty is subject to interpretation.

Marshall Allman portrays Don and delivers a rare and consistent play-by-play of the great struggle between man and himself. In this story of simplicity, growth is marked by the trials of the everyday. What begins as an escape evolves into a rite of passage as one person learns to accept self and manages to make a lasting impact with the power to motivate many.

Religion is a strong theme throughout the film. The existence of God is questioned as is the relevance. There is mocking and blasphemy of sacred text and blind faith. Accordingly, Blue Like Jazz shines the spotlight on the hypocrisy so rampantly associated with organized religion.

The film grabs hold of the audience and their sensibilities, wringing them tight and never letting go. Yet, the story is never more offensive than it is enlightening. Christians and non-Christian types alike will laugh out loud and enjoy the experience of witnessing the genius of self-recognition through the eyes of a wayward lamb.

The strength of the concept is the relative association of the characters. Don is contented and happy with his life; so much so that he shuns opportunity for the familiarity complacency has bred. It is only when his core values are compromised that he considers the possibility of the unknown and makes the decision to observe, participate and live according to his own free will.

Writer Donald Miller has sold over one and a half million copies of his semi-autographical book, Blue Like Jazz. The book spent forty-three weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. After much ado, Miller’s book, a collection of religious essays, was garnering the attention that would inevitably lead down the road to a feature length film. It was after attending a 3-day writing seminar that Miller recognized the screenplay that had begun to take form.

Although there is a basic re-structuring of the story, such was a necessary component in the effort and mission of bringing Miller’s masterpiece to film. Visuals added by Ben Pearson solidify elements that communicate the story through images. Along with the master editing and pulsating, electric sounds of Steve Taylor, the transcendental words of Don’s eccentric Portland experience are immortalized into unpretentious perfection.

Audiences who know and love the bestseller will note the most significant change from book to screen is Don’s age. The lead character of the book is thirty-two, while the lead in the film is nineteen. Miller audited classes at Reed College after moving from Texas to Portland. The film is altered from the book to establish a greater fluidity. Many audiences will connect to the dilemmas and hardships best experienced for the first time and in a college setting. Others will find a kindred spirit in Don and connect to any setting involving the courageous choice to leave home for the first time.

Constant throughout Don’s experience at Reed College is the rebel mentality of the other students. There is no perceivable benefit in conforming to the status quo. Each individual has claimed a stake in self-actualization and Don is a witness to everyone around him.

As he continues on his path, Don is unable to deny how he is influenced by music and by his past. John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” provides the backdrop of Don’s deconstruction of human wiles. The 1964 classic bonds those who hear it to the romanticism of its lofty melody. The album works its way through the story and soundtrack as a leitmotif in free form establishing the boundaries of people and their faith.

Blue Like Jazz is a contemporary tale of conformity and non-conformity. It is a story about love and selflessness. Here is a young man who finds what every individual encounters when running away from a problem. He finds that he runs right into himself.