Santa Cruz Good Times

Thursday
Apr 24th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Off Key

film bluelikejazzsqImposed storyline sinks spiritual quest film 'Blue Like Jazz'

As Ringo says in Help (as the scimitar-wielding devotees of Kaili are chasing him down the beach to make him their next human sacrifice), "I don't want to knock anyone's religion, but..."

Steve Taylor's Blue Like Jazz attempts to mine that same vein of tolerant reasonableness, leavened with a dash of deadpan irreverence. But while the story of a likable young Texan confronting his beliefs during a year at bohemian Reed College in the Pacific Northwest appears to address serious issues of faith and doubt, what emerges is a very shrewdly designed propaganda machine in which all roads must lead back to God. There's nothing like a little walk on the wild side, this movie suggests, to make religious conformity look good again.

The film is adapted from a popular book of spiritual essays by author, corporate consultant, and campus ministry leader Donald Miller. Scriptwriters Miller, Taylor, and Ben Pearson's attempt to impose a fictional narrative on Miller's ideas creates a kind of tidy symmetry, but the device also makes for clumsy, less-than-credible storytelling. As a dramatic film, Blue Like Jazz loses its way.

Marshall Allman stars as a character named Don Miller, a clean-cut nice guy in a small Southern Baptist community in Texas. He leads Bible study classes, looks after his divorced mom, and has finished his first year at community college. His dad, "Hobo" (Eric Lange), lives in an Airstream trailer with a succession of jailbait girlfriends, listens to John Coltrane on vinyl, and opines "Life is like jazz: it never resolves." He advises fledgling writer Don to get out of Texas and "write your own story," somehow obtaining for him a transfer to liberal Reed in Portland, Ore.

Don isn't interested, until it's time for his crisis of faith (sort of). It's not enough that the slimy assistant youth pastor at his church employs a racist Mexican puppet in a sombrero to teach Bible stories, or gives the kids a cross-shaped piñata filled with gel-packs of communion juice instead of candy. But, since this is fiction, the married pastor is also sleeping with Don's mom. Don takes it out on God and heads for Reed, determined to leave all that "hypocrisy" behind.

He throws himself into the alternative universe of Reed with a vengeance. There's "Pope" (Justin Welborn), who wears a mitre and robes, dispenses free condoms, and burns conservative books in a shopping cart. There's "hot lesbian" Lauryn (Tania Raymonde); Don meets her in a men's room, and in the film's only affecting relationship, she becomes his first friend, advising him to keep his Christianity under wraps. (When he points out the campus tolerates religions like "S & M Wiccans," she retorts, "Do you have any idea what your hateful, bullying tribe has been up to?")

But mostly, he pursues blonde Penny (Claire Holt), who's into elaborate protests against corporate chain bookstores and bottled water. Don happily goes along, even gets arrested, to "fit in" in Penny's eyes, only to learn that—guess what? She read the Bible for the first time "in lit class" last year and now she's a groupie for Jesus (his portraits decorate her dorm room walls), who spends the holidays in India working with the poor. Suddenly, being Christian is cool again.

Rarely is anyone shown actually attending a class, and these kids have limitless funds to spend on costumes, pageantry, and beer. In Penny's room, Don finds the same Coltrane album he's gotten from his dad—and a turntable to play it on. Symbolically, Okay, her "cool" cred is established. But realistically, what college kid today even knows what a record player is? An honest evaluation of personal faith would be one thing, but everything that happens to Don is a reaction to external events, not an introspective searching within.

Like Don, most of the key characters experience some sort of personal revelation thfilm bluelikejazzat draws them back, if not to the church per se, at least back to a comforting spiritual presence. Fine. But there's no room for healthy doubt in this equation; characters who don't get with the program by the final fadeout are, well, left behind, plotwise. This movie dabbles in a hip, anti-church-establishment viewpoint, but its agenda is pretty clear.

BLUE LIKE JAZZ

★★ (out of four)
Watch film trailer >>>

With Marshall Allman, Claire Holt, and Justin Welborn. Written by Donald Miller, Ben Pearson, and Steve Taylor. From the book by Donald Miller. Directed by Steve Taylor. A Roadside Attractions release. Rated PG-13. 109 minutes.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Best of Santa Cruz County 2014

The 2014 Santa Cruz County Readers' Poll Come on in, and have a look around. There’s a lot to see—hundreds of winners selected by thousands of GT readers across Santa Cruz County. So if some of this looks familiar, it’s probably because you helped make it happen. But there are always new things to discover, too—you could go to a different winner or runner-up every day in the Food and Drink category alone, and you’d be booked just about until next year’s Best of Santa Cruz County issue comes out.

 

Something Essential Disappears

Lunar and solar eclipses follow one another. Lunar eclipses occur at full moons, and solar eclipses at new moons. Two weeks ago at the full moon we had the blood red moon—a total lunar eclipse (the next one is Oct. 8). On Monday night, April 28 (new moon), as the Sun, Moon and Earth align, a solar eclipse (Sun obscured) occurs. Eclipses signify something irrevocably is changed in our world. The Sun is our essential life force. Monday’s new moon, 9 degrees Taurus, is also an annular solar eclipse when the Moon moves centrally in front of the Sun, yet does not cover the Sun completely. The Sun's outer edges, still visible, form a “ring of fire” around the Moon.

 

Sugar: The New Tobacco?

Proposed bill would require warning labels on sugary drinks Will soda and other saccharine libations soon come with a health warning? They will if it’s up to our state senator, Bill Monning (D-Carmel). On Feb. 27, Monning proposed first-of-its-kind legislation that would require a consumer warning label be placed on sugar-sweetened beverages sold in California. SB 1000, also known as the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act, was proposed to provide vital information to consumers about the harmful effects of consuming sugary drinks, such as sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, and sweetened teas.

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of April 17

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >
Sign up for Tomorrow's Good Times Today
Upcoming arts & events

Latest Comments

 

Palate-Stretching 101

A wine education with Soif’s experts As a veteran of many weekend wine “seminars” at Soif, I have to confess that I’ve never known less (going in) and learned more (coming out) than I did last week at the Spanish Wine Tasting with ace rep Brian Greenwood. These are classy, casual events and it’s hard to imagine having this much flavor fun anywhere for $20.

 

Martin Ranch Winery

Sauvignon Blanc 2011 One of my favorite wines is Sauvignon Blanc, and this one made by Martin Ranch is particularly lovely. Bright, crisp and refreshing, it’s perfect to pair with fish and shellfish—and good for picnics as it has an easy screw-cap bottle. There’s nothing worse than setting down your blanket, pulling out your sandwiches—and then realizing you don’t have a corkscrew.

 

Foodie File: Red Apple Cafe

Breakfast takes center stage at Gracia Krakauer's Red Apple Cafe Before they moved to Aptos, Gracia and her husband Dan Krakauer would visit friends in Santa Cruz County and eat at the Red Apple Café all the time. Then they moved up here from Santa Monica five years ago, and bought the Aptos location (there’s a separate one in Watsonville) from the family who owned it for two decades.

 

How would you feel about a tech industry boom in Santa Cruz?

I feel like it would ruin the small old-town feeling of Santa Cruz. It wouldn’t be the same Surf City kind of vacation town that it is. Antoinette BennettSanta Cruz | Construction Management