Blue Like Jazz, Not Like Courageous

John J. Thompson

John Thompson
March 14, 2012

Just as a point of clarification; I see nothing wrong at all with films being made "by Christians and for Christians." Same obviously goes for music. Every tribe has every right to express themselves and their values through the arts. I simply want to differentiate the type of filmmaking being accomplished by Taylor and Miller from the more evangelistically minded work of the Sherwood folks (Courageous, Fireproof etc.) Courageous fans might be deeply offended and confused by Blue Like Jazz, just as Blue Like Jazz fans might be put off by Courageous.

After the premiere last night Taylor, Miller and lead actor Marshall Allman came out to answer questions. The very first question came from a young woman: "What is the difference between the religiousness the main character has at the beginning of the movie from the religiousness he has at the end?" Miller explained the difference between the faith he inherited culturally as a kid and the faith he developed and owned after his time at Reed College. That young woman either came at the film from a very religious perspective - not yet "getting" the difference between an owned, personal faith - or (more likely at SXSW) came at it with no concept of faith at all. Either way, it was very encouraging to have that question come up first as I believe it is the question at the core of the film.

One of the SXSW staff told us that there were hundreds of films submitted for this festival and that the fact that Blue Like Jazz was chosen as an "Official Selection" already spoke of their admiration of the film. He then said that they had seen thousands of college films, but rarely one with this much heart.

Chad Thomas Johnston
March 14, 2012

JJT, I was already psyched to see this, but now I really want to see this. Steve Taylor. Don Miller. John J. Thompson. This review is a magnet for awesome people whose works I admire! :) Great to see many names converging on one page. Thanks for the review, good sir! :)

Jason Wiedel
March 15, 2012

I love the reveiew. I am so anxious to see Blue Like Jazz. I hope that it is able to effect those of us who see it as well as bring a new level of creativity to religious film-making.

Bickle Fam
March 17, 2012

I saw the movie last night. Loved the film, just as I loved the book. I agree with your review and your review's title. I disagree with something you said in the clarifying comment, though. In many ways I believe that this film is more evangelistically minded than the Sherwood folks, simply because it is a film that is not made by Christians for Christians. It's a film that is made to be show the reality of the struggles and failures and redemption of a Christian. I am not knocking the Sherwood movies, they have great messages for Christians. But I am not going to invite my non-Christian friends to watch them. Sorry, but my non-Christian friends just wouldn't like them. They would say that they are hokey. If a movie isn't being seen by non-Christians, it isn't reaching the non-Christians. Then can it truly be evangelistic? Blue Like Jazz has the potential to be a catalyst for so many conversations with non-Christians about Christianity. Authentic Christianity. Blue Like Jazz has the potential to ignite conversations among Christians about what it means to be a Christian and how we should interact with non-Christians. This movie has the potential to be a catalyst to change the conversation in our culture. I really hope those who support the Sherwood films can support this film to because this film is evangelism on the front lines to those who need to hear it.

Alexander Gartley
March 28, 2012

Bickle Fam, you made an interesting point. I hadn't thought of that before, but that is totally one of the reasons I am really excited about seeing this movie next month!

April 13, 2012

As a fan of Courageous and Fireproof and Facing the Giants, I was also looking forward to seeing Blue like Jazz and was not expecting it to be anything like the above mentioned movies, but I haven't read an article, yet, that has not drawn comparisons while making the Sherwood films and fans seem shallow and brainless. My favorite was the article comparing the Sherwood films with porn.

I can assure you, as a lover of Jesus Christ and His Gospel, I did not enjoy the Sherwood movies because I am a mindless zombie who enjoys sitting in a theater with a bag of popcorn having "my views reverberated back to me."

I will not argue that the Sherwood movies weren't "hokey," but I will argue that the Gospel is just that..."hokey." Paul said the Gospel will be foolishness to the world, and those who believe the Gospel, fools. There isn't a passage in the Bible where followers of Jesus are told to run from that. On the contrary, if we are to "pick up our cross" we will have to embrace it. Jesus died in shame and rejection. Following Him means embracing the same. And, yes, the further you get from a black and white presentation of the Gospel, the less "hokey" things will be.

This doesn't mean I have a problem with books and movies like Blue like Jazz. I think there is room for both types of expression and that both can be doors for meaningful conversations between Christians and non-Christians alike.

By the way, I have had great conversations with friends who do not claim to be Christians because of Courageous and Fireproof and have seen Christians take their own faith more seriously because of those movies as well. Maybe the problem isn't with the "hokiness" of those movies but our own fear of being identified with the "hokiness" of Jesus.

I hope Blue like Jazz does well and that many Christians and Sherwood film fans go see it (I'm planning to), but mocking the Sherwood films and fans, whether openly or subtly, as in "I doubt this movie will bring Southern Baptists out by the van-load," isn't helping.

Kelley Kent
April 13, 2012

@marcifranseen: well said!

Could we please recognize that Sherwood Pictures has a specific Christian ministry to Christians? just like Steve Taylor has a Christian ministry to non-Christians?

The church has a two-fold task: to tell sinners they need to go to Christ for salvation, and to tell Christians they need to go to Christ for spiritual strength. Sherwood does the latter - very well. They know who God is and how he works, better than anyone else I've seen in the Christian film industry! [Another good example is Faith Like Potatoes.] With Sherwood just like with Tim Tebow, it's about excellence in every area of life (church, home, marketplace) and every fiber of one's tripartite being. Sherwood's task right now is building up the church to have faith in God and to demonstrate excellence through spiritual power.

Does 'Blue Like Jazz' do this? Is that its purpose? No. Yet I don't know what the film's purpose is! I still believe Steve Taylor need to learn that the lion roars, not whispers, to sinners and Christians like - just like genius roars as famed baker Ron Ben-Israel loves to say on his Food Network show "Sweet Genius." I'm not seeing genius or roaring in this film. "Blue Like Jazz" seems too wimpy in its presentation of the gospel to sinners, if that is its purpose. We see reality, how things are. We don't see how things should be. This film has no vision.

Michael Waggoner
April 15, 2012

I bought the years ago when it came out after a friend recommended it to me. I loved it...loved it so much I re-read it. I've returned to the book several times over the years, also having read everything else Don Miller has written. I have enjoyed every single word in each and every book. With that having been said, I was very disappointed with the movie. Very.
I understand that Don, Steve & Ben felt like the book couldn't go to the screen exactly as written...I understand how adaptations work, but honestly, this wasn't so much an adaptation as an altogether different project that just happened to have characters of the same name. I was so excited when I heard the film was being made; my excitement has not only waned, but has ceased to exist. Sorry for the rain on your parade.

Candes Shewmaker
April 17, 2012

After reading some reviews I'm not sure what to expect. I will watch it to form my own opinions.

I was hoping to see raw honesty. I don't need another "preaching to the choir" film. I need something to wake up the sleeping giant that will rattle a few non-believers heads as well.

I have watched Courageous and the like and though the message is delivered the messengers are two-dimensional. I hope BLJ is not.

David Mathews
April 17, 2012

Finally a movie that takes an honest an realistic view of the christian walk. I loved the book, and the movie was just as good if not better. It is refreshing to see a movie that is not filled with cheesy christian cliches. But takes a hard look at the true journey of the christian faith. Great job again Taylor and Miller! Thank you!

Amy T
April 28, 2012

Michael, I had the same experience with the film. I found myself wanting to enjoy it but I didn't. The performances were terrific. I particularly liked the Pope. I also appreciated the struggle Don experienced with his mother & the youth pastor. However, I realized that I only cared about the characters b/c I knew that they were based on real people. I was inspired by the book so perhaps that's why I found the film disjointed.

My date (an ex-Catholic who turned to Buddhism) didn't like the film because he felt "It tried to hard." He spent most of the movie wondering why an astronaut floated through and what was with the woman in the carrot costume. I'm still getting teased about my inability to pick movies.

August 9, 2012

Having not seen the film yet I'd love to chime in but I can't say anything about the quality of it since I havent seen it. I will say this, the trailers didnt not make the movie look appetizing at all.

The problem I assume is its incredibly difficult to turn memoirs into a linear plot, but who knows I guess I'll have to wait and see.

I am curious to see it though because it is a "christian" film and I've been disappointed by most of them, not they they were horrible, but in my "movie buff" opinion they lack alot of what hollywood films bring to the table, even the indy ones. So I'd like to see what Miller & Co. bring to the table. Either way I'm expecting it to be average so either I'll get what I expect or it'll be way better. Win win I guess.

Angela Kelly
September 5, 2013

Hey! I read the book and I thought it was very good! Have not seen the movie yet, but am interested in seeing it especially after reading your comments and as Candes said to form my own opinions of it.
I do believe any movie that helps spark positive conversation about Christianity and faith in Christ is good whether its audience is for the Christian community or non-Christian community. In addition, Michael, any movie that does its best to follow the book (an adaptation) is a good thing. At the same time (no matter how weird it feels to expect a movie to be like the book but it isn't), even if the movie is not exactly like the book, if it is still made with excellence and encourages faith-based conversations and or/spiritual growth, I am for it.
Marcifranseen, I agreed with a lot of what you wrote! Great thoughts! Just a couple thoughts, if I am reading you right, I don't believe that just because a film is made with a Christian message mainly for Christian audiences that it is automatically "hokey." From thefreedictionary.com, hokey means, "mawkishly sentimental; corny 2. noticeably contrived; artificial", urbandictionary.com says "something that is viewed with suspicion and/or corniness (ie, a hokey sales pitch). From the dictionary definitions, I don't think the Gospel or the content of the Sherwood films are "hokey." However, I do think that HOW the Gospel message/content is portrayed or "pitched" can be "hokey" as in some of the acting/directing in the Sherwood films and NOT JUST the Sherwood films but other Christian films as well. No offense to the actors-(I admit freely I would be a totally "hokey" and unrealistic actor)-I do believe they were believable enough to get the timely and powerful messages across to their audiences. An example of a Christian film that did not have a "hokey" way of pitching the Gospel was "The Passion of the Christ." I believe it was very believable and led many to Christ and encouraged many Christians in their faith. I do believe that if Blue Like Jazz is just as believable and well-made, in content and production, as other Christian-based films as Sherwood films, etc, it will draw many people and be a seed for many conversations and conversions.
Also, marcifranseen, I liked your idea about Christians taking up our crosses like Jesus, but I thought I would add a thought if that is okay with you. When Jesus went to the cross he not only experienced the shame of dying on the cross, but he "scorned" its shame (Hebrews 12:2), meaning he ridiculed, mocked, derided and disrespected the cross's shame because of the joy set before him. In addition, he carried the weight and shame of sin for us on the cross so that we don't have to. Just wanted to put a more positive light on Jesus' death and being a Christian. Taking up our crosses and dying to ourselves may be hard at times, but we should never experience shame or be ashamed for following Jesus. Rather we should live with joy in our hearts and rejoice in Christ. In closing, Paul said, "I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16).

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