April 18, 2012

Filmwell Update: Jeffrey Overstreet reviews “Blue Like Jazz”

Conversely, my Filmwell colleague Jeffrey Overstreet finds the film enjoyable and a (flawed) step forward for “Christian films”.

Blue Like Jazz is a film made by Christians about a Southern Baptist’s undergraduate adventures at a liberal college in Portland, Oregon — specifically, Reed College.

And yet… director and screenwriter Steve Taylor, his co-writer Ben Pearson, and the man whose memoir inspired their work — Donald Miller — are not interested in dividing the world into two teams, hosting a battle, and having one side emerge triumphant. Their movie is about something more interesting. It tells a story of human beings inside and outside the church — men, women, parents, children, believers, skeptics, seekers, fundamentalists — who are all blessed with moments of wisdom and moments of folly, capable of faith and doubt, stubbornness and change, hypocrisy and authenticity. As big-screen satires go, this one gives us a surprisingly complex and nuanced picture of humankind.


It’s in Miller’s willingness to admit his confusion and his questions that Blue Like Jazz rises above so many so-called “Christian films.” Christian audiences tend to celebrate movies that serve as airbrushed visions of the Christian life, advertisements for a Jesus who promises happiness and who grants wishes for those who believe. Blue Like Jazz will be a hard pill for those audiences to swallow. That’s because it admits that the Christian life is full of hardship and questions that aren’t easily answered. And it suggests that we are as likely to encounter God at work outside the church as inside of it.


While we should be honest about the film’s flaws as we are about its strengths, we should ultimately give Steve Taylor and Donald Miller — and the hundreds of generous donors who brought this vision to the screen — due credit for boldly going into territory too volatile for most “Christian filmmakers,” and yet wrestling with questions that will probably drive away those with an allergy to conversations about religion.