Did You See Blue Like Jazz?

So, I’m wondering if any of you saw Blue Like Jazz over it’s opening weekend. As expected, I saw many posts like this on Facebook:

That’s right, it’s a Christian’s duty to buy tickets for this movie, even if you can’t go, in order to send the message to the fat cats in Hollywood that we want more movies like this.

It seems the “crucial” opening weekend didn’t go so well. BLJ came in 20th at the box office, according to Variety, behind even John Carter. It did make more per theater than John Carter, because BLJ was only in 136 theaters. This weekend, BLJ made 1% of the number one movie, Hunger Games.

The comments left on my earlier post and the FB posts and tweets I read about the movie ranged from “Meh” to “Everyone seemed like a sophomoric cartoon of real people.”

On Rotten Tomatoes, there seems to be a split between critics and fans:

So, I’m wondering if you saw it. And, if so, what did you think?

  • http://18thandfairfax.wordpress.com Bo Eberle

    Only because you asked again, I’ll say again that this was the worst movie I have ever seen in theaters. Aside from the fact that it’s just not funny, the characters are all stereotypes, and moves at the pace of a 3 legged tortoise (and uses absurd Jerry Springer-esque plot devices), it’s undergirded by horrifying thematic elements like atheists, liberals, and gays all have certain “issues” that made them that way and “belief,” or cognitive assent, in God is the central issue in transforming our personal lives and culture (which isn’t hard because atheists don’t have any good reasons to turn away from God aside from their personal baggage, the God debate scene in Powell’s bookstore is cringe-worthy). I really, really have a hard time imagining this movie being genuinely challenging to anyone who has ever in their life given a single self-reflective thought to their life and religious beliefs. I would urge my fellow Christians that it is our duty not to support hollow, disingenuous “Christian” art (as if there is such a distinction).

  • http://www.renovatingthemind.com Nathan Wheeler

    I went to see Blue Like Jazz yesterday. Was it a cinematic masterpiece…no. Was it just meh…no. I really enjoyed the movie. I went not because I want more “christian” movies, I went because I like the book and wanted to see the movie. I thought it had a good mix of humor and drama. Was it better than the book…movies never are better but I enjoyed and think you should see it if you liked the book not because it’s a Christian movie.

  • Phineus

    I saw it on Saturday night. The theater was full. Though it was one of the smaller theaters and it was in Portland which I think has more of an interest in seeing the movie because it was filmed here.

    Sophomoric? No, that would be the fake Three Stooges movie (can’t believe anyone would go to that one). Was it the greatest movie ever? No. Certainly not the worst I’ve seen either. It was entertaining with some pretty funny spots (re-inacting the Viet Nam War for credit – come on, that was funny). And it was wayyy different from the book – if you’re going in expecting a true-to-the-book movie, well you’re gonna be disappointed. Yes, it was a bit choppy; the transformation of “Don” seemed to happen way too quickly. But it’s a movie. They’ve only got about 90 minutes to try to put together the story, that’s the limitation of the medium.

    As for the movie’s success (or non-success)… well this is a very tough place for a movie to be. The evangelical Christian “establishment” certainly doesn’t want to embrace the movie (“It’s got lesbians and drunkenness and… for shame!”) And the general non-Christian public who haven’t got a clue about the book or it’s impact are probably not going to rush right out and see it. And then you’ve got people who read the book and are expecting to see the book on the screen (not a realistic expectation). So it seems that the movie’s demographic is actually rather small.

    • http://18thandfairfax.wordpress.com Bo Eberle

      First, I think the evangelical “establishment” would be more willing to embrace this movie than you think. After all, like the book, ultimately when Christians apologize for being hypocrites, they’re apologizing for things like the crusades, not apologizing for not embracing LGBTQ people in the Church. The movie takes no stand on the pressing issues of Christian bigotry today, such as the exclusion of the queer community, being pro-war, etc. While there are lesbians IN the movie, there is absolutely no endorsement of their lifestyle. Furthermore, drunkenness is only portrayed in a hedonistic light, e.g. Don’s dad and the various heathen Reed students. We never see Penny drinking (she’s a Christian!) and drinking is strongly connected to Don’s “rebellious” phase. On the surface, this may be controversial for evangelicals, but, much like the Driscoll phenomenon, a little cussing and acting cool can go a long way in reaffirming archaic and hateful theology/ideology.

      Second, at least according to critics, “Three Stooges” is a better film than BLJ, if only marginally (43% to 41%). It seems, at least, that Stooges succeeds in being funny at least some of the time, which is at least one redeeming quality, “sophomoric” or not. I’d prefer to reserve “sophomoric” for arguments that atheists are all relativistic nihilists (like the one Don sees at Powell’s that apparently profoundly changes his thinking), but that’s just me.

      • Phineus

        Lest my comment about the Stooges be misunderstood: You don’t “remake” the Stooges. That’s just wrong.

        “While there are lesbians IN the movie, there is absolutely no endorsement of their lifestyle.” I would suggest that the lesbian character is actually portrayed as human. While there is no “endorsement” of her lifestyle, neither does there seem to be a condemnation of it. In fact she seems to be a good friend of the protagonist.

  • http://18thandfairfax.wordpress.com Bo Eberle

    So your argument for remaking the Three Stooges of “you just don’t do that” isn’t then applicable to making film versions of facile popular Christian books? I could have told anyone “you just don’t do that” to the idea of making a film version of “Blue Like Jazz.” Even if remaking classics is something you just don’t do, it was probably done better than Don Miller and Steve Taylor’s little indie flick.

    “The lesbian character is actually portrayed as human” … so now in the Christian world making particular individuals out to be “human” (as opposed to animals?) is progressive and something that would offend the evangelical establishment? Really???

    • Phineus

      Heh, well, good point on making and remaking. Actually, I really liked BLJ the book – it really struck a chord with a lot of people (and I’m very near my 50th b’day, so it didn’t just resonate with the young. Heck, I didn’t just want to see the movie based on the book, I wanted to see it because it was directed by Steve Taylor; for those too young to recall, he played a kind of iconoclastic role in Christian music back in the 80s and I was a big fan of his work back then). I kind of wonder if the problem was the scope of the movie. Steve Taylor read the book and wanted to make a movie based on the confession box scene. It’s a powerful passage in the book… and to some extent in the movie as well, but the apology seems to be a bit misdirected in the movie (why would Mr. former Pope care that “Don” is ashamed of Jesus, for example?) Maybe Steve should have made a short film based on that scene in the book instead of a feature-length movie?

      “so now in the Christian world making particular individuals out to be “human” … is progressive and something that would offend the evangelical establishment? Really???” Uhh… Bo… I’m going to guess you didn’t grow up in the Evangelical Bubble? Portraying a lesbian as a friend of the protagonist is a pretty big step that will be difficult for a lot of the more conservative Evangelicals to accept… and while many of the younger Evangelicals won’t have a problem with it, there are still a lot of very conservative Evangelicals out there.

    • Phineus

      Thinking a bit more about this, I’m wondering if you’re asking too much from this movie?

      The fact that it didn’t devolve into an us-vs-them, “go Christian Team!” kind of movie seems like a win in itself.

      • http://18thandfairfax.wordpress.com Bo Eberle

        On the contrary, I think this was a “Go Christian team” kind of movie at its core. The central dichotomy is between God-believers and God-disavowers. Don’s struggle is between Christianity and atheism. I may be asking too much of this movie in particular, it’s a decade old story that I hardly find relevant AFTER everything Brian McLaren, Tony, Pete Rollins, Pagitt, Rob Bell, etc. have written at the same popular level Don Miller writes to. That’s why I think the project should have stayed dead. I have to ask more of this movie than I should be I expect more from the Christian community. The movie asks superficial questions, gives superficial answers, and pats itself on the back while the evangelical audience (I was with one at a prescreening) applauds the film but also itself for playing for the right team, inspired to go out and get people back to church, darn it! It’s like how Congress has abysmal approval ratings, yet 90 something percent of citizens approve of THEIR representative. Likewise, I think the audience of this film is blind to the Church’s deep ideological and structural problems because they think that whatever they’re doing in their church is ok. But you’re right- I didn’t grow up in that subculture, I just took a brief tour in college when I was in Crusade before I got kicked out.

  • http://adammclane.com adam mclane

    I saw it Friday. I thought it moved the ball down the court… at least it wasn’t embarrassing. Was it brilliant? No, but there were clever moments.

    The screenplay felt a bit choppy to me. But it wasn’t any different than a movie you’d see on IFC any given day. It felt very indie to me. Not in a bad way, but definitely quirky.

  • http://jpserrano.com Jeremy

    I saw Blue Like Jazz this last weekend and got exactly what I was expecting. It was a descent “coming of age” type of story set on a party school campus.

    I enjoyed the movie for several reasons.

    1. There are some funny parts to the movie. The little Mexican doll that the youth pastor uses as a prop for children’s sermons is ridiculous and the face of the hispanic couple in the congregation needed no explanation.
    2. The main character rebelled in way that would be genuine to the faith tradition he grew up in and a rejection of the type of God it portrays.
    3. The main character had a gay friend whom he actually cared about.
    4. He came back to faith in a new way.

    It wasn’t cinematic Gold, but I didn’t feel like I had wasted my money.

  • Cliff Harris

    The main problem for me is that the movie had a script that was just bad and they should have taken the time to either find better quality writers for it or scrap the project all together. There are plenty of Christian movies out there that underline Evangelical ideals and not many that show the theology of more liberal minded Christians. The book/movie wasn’t ever really intended to bring out the major LGBTQ affirming issues that are being brought up here and why “The Three Stooges” have been mentioned on here is absolutely crazy to me, but whatever. There should absolutely be movies out there that show true Christian love and support for these groups of people that are being condemned and shunned from the Evangelical community and other willfully ignorant people. But in order to get more attention to those types of movies, they first need to be sure that it’s a movie that isn’t just thrown together and pushed out there since the book was good. Just because a “Christian” movie is out there for us to see, doesn’t mean that we have to like it or accept it no matter how crap it is.

    • http://18thandfairfax.wordpress.com Bo Eberle

      Just to be fair Cliff, they were released the same weekend and the purpose was only for professional critical comparison… The fact that the “Stooges” movie was better liked by top critics should be quite telling as to the quality of BLJ… if one puts any stock in critics (who are certainly fallible, but consensuses are generally trustworthy, I’ve found when it comes to films)

    • Phineus

      “and not many that show the theology of more liberal minded Christians.”

      Actually, the book BLJ reaches some fairly theologically conservative conclusions (what was it that CS Lewis said about total depravity being one of the most empirically provable doctrines, but the most doubted? The book definitely agrees with that sentiment). There was never any intent for the movie to “show the theology of more liberal minded Christians” and I’m not sure why anyone would have expected it to.

      If you want a “Christian” movie that affirms LGBTQ folks and liberal minded theology… well, that would need to be made from a completely different book. I’m getting the idea that some folks were projecting a lot on BLJ (the book) and certainly it was the kind of work that allowed for that.

      • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

        Agreed, Phineus. In the final analysis, BLJ: The Book is pretty straightforward evangelical theology. Were it not, Campus Crusade surely would not have distributed it to students across the country.

  • Ed Love

    I just got back from BLJ…
    God really spoke to me through it… (I actually cried) (I cried at Toy Story 3, so I’m not sure what that means… ;)
    I’m thankful for the film makers who took the risk and tried putting visuals to Miller’s written story. Not an easy task, to be sure.
    I was/am in the middle of a faith struggle so the movie must have reconnected my rejuvenated heart to my messed up head. It’s like God’s been following me around….

    I’m not really sure why Christians feel compelled to critique everything, including BLJ, which seems outside the Christian bubble maker. I read all sorts of blogs and learn from them, but sometimes it blows my mind how much time people waste on critiquing other Christians and the things they do. Maybe instead of critiquing we could create more… Maybe we could even send Donald an encouragement note and thank him for his willingness to share his God-story with us and show us his penguin boxers…

    ed

    • Frank

      True Christian love never encourages sin. True Christian love seeks to lead those they love OUT of sinful behavior.

    • Phineus

      Indeed, I think _Why The Lucky Stiff said it well:

      “when you don’t create things, you become defined by your tastes rather than ability. your tastes only narrow & exclude people. so create.”
      ― Why The Lucky Stiff

  • Cliff Harris

    Good point Bo. And there were A LOT of critics that seem to just tear BLJ to pieces.

  • EricG

    No interest in seeing it, because it would just frustrate me, for the same reasons Bo mentions.

  • Lorinda

    The crowd who loves Kirk Cameronesque Christian movies will hate this film. Non-Christians won’t find it relevant. Unfortunately for Steve Taylor and the gang, their efforts will have very little impact beyond BLJ book fans. Bottom line: It just wasn’t compelling. My date and I were the only ones in the theater and I thought more than once about initiating a make-out session to break up the monotony of the film. Albeit, the movie had its moments: The Vietnam War Reenactment Society was laugh-out-loud hilarious. The piñata cross scene was golden. The friendship between Don and his gay friend was painted realistically and redemptively. I felt moved by the final scene of the movie, which was more reflective of the nature of the book than the rest of the movie. And….anytime you add John Coltrane to the mix, things are better. Still, I was left pining for the new Wes Anderson movie that was shown during the previews. Which, by the way, features Edward Norton who could easily pull off the character of Tony Jones should “A Better Atonement” be made into a screenplay.

  • jordan

    thrown together?? they worked on it for 6 years… thats only 3 years shy of how long cameron worked on avatar. and the budget difference between BLJ and every other nationally released movie is farrrr overlooked. you might as well be comparing how a 1989 toyota corolla drives to the new lambo aventador. this is just a movie by an author who sold his house to release it.

  • Phil Miller

    I’m a little late to the party, but I saw BLJ over the weekend, and I’ve got to say I thought it could have been better, but it was by no means horrible. The main thing is that it was a little disjointed, and it felt like it could have benefited from a little extra editing. In that sense, it’s not much different than many independent films out there. It wasn’t embarrassing, or anything. I’d have no problem recommending it someone asked me if it’s worth seeing.

    Honestly, I was surprised at how much it wasn’t cleaned up given it’s relationship to evangelicalism. I expected a few token curses or maybe a few things that came near the line, but I thought it did a pretty good job of not paying much attention to the line. If anything, there were a few times where I thought it came close trying too hard to show it wasn’t a Christian film.

  • Kayla

    Started off good ended in being more brainwashing mumbo jumbo. Seriously more Christian bullshit disguised as a good movie. You start out interested in the main character and his questioning of his obviously flawed faith and world, he then ends up being a total dick before reverting to more bible thumping dogma.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X