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I’m Feeling Ambivalent about Blue Like Jazz: The Movie

I’m Feeling Ambivalent about Blue Like Jazz: The Movie April 11, 2012

If you travel in the same online circles as me, you are being inundated with urgings to support and see Blue Like Jazz, the movie based on Don Miller’s best-selling memoir. Friends on Facebook who once begged me to send money to the Kickstarter campaign for the film are now pleading with me to buy tickets in advance, an effort to show theater owners how great this film is.

But these efforts give me the willies. It reminds me of when Christianity Today literally wrapped itself in a promotion for Evan Almighty, a sophomoric and poorly made movie (23% on Rotten Tomatoes) — editor David Neff called it a “bold symbol of the new cooperative spirit” between Hollywood and the evangelical church.

Hollywood must have forgotten about that cooperative spirit, because Steve Taylor couldn’t find investors to make the BLJ movie. Supporters of the film decided to crowdsource it, raising over $345,000 on Kickstarter, the second-largest Kickstarter campaign of 2010. As you can imagine, I’m a fan of crowdsourcing and of making end-runs around traditional media (hence my ebook publishing), but I was a little put-off by the often panicky appeals during the fundraising campaign.

Now, on the eve of the release, I’m similarly ambivalent. In spite of numerous invitations to see pre-screenings of the movie, I haven’t yet seen it. Many of my friends have. Some have loved it, and others have walked out because they found it to be horrible. The Village Voice reviewed it at SXSW and concluded,

Blue Like Jazz … departs from the typical Christian movie in that it sensibly preaches tolerance and personal integrity over indoctrination, holding no animus toward Reed’s “godless” student body. One only has so much patience, though, for watching Communion-wafer-thin characters caught in a liberal-arts cartoon.

Time Out New York hated it.

Now, my fellow Christians are beseeching me to see it. It’s not quite like when Christians proclaimed that The Passion was going to the be greatest evangelism opportunity since Peter’s sermon on Pentecost (Ed Young, Jr. said that). But the the pressure is on nevertheless. It seems likely, from what I’ve heard, that critics are going to pan this movie, or at least give it an overwhelming, “Meh.” Fearing this, many of my fellow Christians desperately want this movie to succeed commercially, because if it doesn’t, the thinking goes, they’ll never make another Christian movie again!

That’s what Gerardo Marti hopes,

But the ability to portray this “anti-Christian,” Christianity could spur the production of even more creative work that puts religion and social change into a broader conversation.

Donald Miller

But here’s where my ambivalence comes in. I agree with them, in part. I don’t know Don Miller. Never met him. But I like him, and I know that we share friends and sensibilities. He took a big career risk by publicly stumping for Obama four years ago. He’s dedicated to the craft of writing, and to helping out young writers. And he (usually) writes about the Christian faith with a nuance that many on the evangelical side of the dial lack. So, I want him to succeed. If anyone should make a film about Christianity in the late 20th century, it should be Don Miller.

But, I also don’t want the movie to be bad. And I hope it’s not.

Have you seen the movie? Read the book? What do you think?

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