Blue Like Jazz | Film review
It’s hard to forgive the sins of this crisis-of-faith quirkfest.
Religion is such a polarizing topic that it’s tempting to worship any American movie that handles it with a modicum of thoughtfulness. Blue Like Jazz certainly belongs in that camp, though it would take near-divine forgiveness to absolve the film of its sins—dramatic, directorial and otherwise. As with last year’s crisis-of-faith memoir Higher Ground, the material has nonfiction origins—in this case, the semi-autobiographical story of a dyed-in-the-wool Baptist (TV-trained Marshall Allman) who leaves his home in the Bible Belt for the legendarily liberal campus of Reed College. Here, in an attempt to fit in, our hero hides and then quietly renounces his religious upbringing, a choice that ingratiates him with a sacrilegious classmate (Justin Welborn, perpetually clad in papal garb) but also stalls his fledgling romance with a covert churchgoer (Claire Holt).
You pray the film will dive deeper into this unique dilemma—for once, it’s not the Christians doing the onscreen ostracizing—but director Steve Taylor leads us astray. From richly personal material he’s shaped a broad indie quirkfest, set at some sitcom-wacky university (available courses include Malaysian Cocktail Tennis) and frequently prone to cruddy animated interludes. The film never gets to the conflicted heart of its wavering believer; a demoralizing betrayal shakes the foundation of the kid’s faith, but the movie fails to show us how sturdy it was in the first place. Building to an eye-rollingly bombastic confession-booth sermon, Blue Like Jazz proves what any disciplined disciple already knows: It’s not just what you’re preaching, but how, that really matters.