(Update: USA Today just published this great account of how the movie got made.)
Blue Like Jazz, a movie based on the bestselling book by Don Miller, opens this Friday. I was lucky to catch an advanced screening in Raleigh a few weeks ago because, unbelievably, I had invested in it. If you don't know the story: BLJ nearly died in production, short on money. Some guys started a kickstarter campaign that raised like $300,000 or something crazy. A few of my dollars helped. You gotta understand: I don't ever donate to stuff like this, which says something about how much (a) the movie means to me and (b) how much I believe in it.
So I expected it to be good.
I don't know if I expected it to be as good as it is.
It's almost like a Christian version of "The Hangover," if such a thing could exist. That's probably overselling it a little—but not a lot. It's entertaining, it's hilarious, and now that I'm saying such nice things about it you're going to go in there with expectations too high and think it sucks. Crap. This is why I do journalism and don't review movies. I ruin them for people.
Seriously though—BLJ is maybe the most honest portrayal of what a Christian college kid goes through I've ever seen. It has the potential to resonate with people—young and old, Christian and otherwise—more than any other "Christian" movie ever has.
It's not family friendly. This is not Fireproof. Blue Like Jazz is rated PG-13, and yeah, it earns it.
But that's because it's truthful. It boldly explores a lot of things that are important and relevant and, in the Christian community, sadly taboo even to honestly talk about, especially for people my age and people in college.
It also says some things for Christians that I've been wanting to say for a long time—things that I think a lot of Christians have been wanting to say, and it says them very, very well.
A few years ago, you probably wouldn't have liked me very much. I was a Christian and I wanted you to know it. First couple years of college, before I figured a few things out, I made a couple friends, yeah, but mostly I ticked people off. I'd go to parties and have fun, but other times I'd be the jerk standing in the background just sort of watching and, yeah, judging.
Looking back, I probably would have very badly wanted to punch me in the throat.
People didn't dislike me because they "felt convicted" for partying. Mostly, they just thought I was a jerk.
So, yeah. I feel pretty bad that people had to put up with me.
Anyway. Blue Like Jazz. It's based off Don Miller's bestselling book Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality. It's pretty different from the book. Of course, it had to be—the book was a memoir-like collection of essays, and a movie is, well, a narrative-driven piece of storytelling. Things have to change. But huge ups to Don for letting them change.*
* I could go on for awhile about Don Miller. He's had a surprisingly strong influence on my life ever since in high school Katie, who at the time I had no clue would be my future wife, was trying to get me to read BLJ. "He reminds me so much of how you think," she said. Because as obnoxious as I could be with my goody-goody-ness, I was also a challenger, a fighter, one who had to take on all doubts and challenge those who made me believe the things I believed. I think my brothers and sisters thought I was just a jerk, and while yeah, I probably didn't do the greatest job of voicing my concerns in a particularly polite fashion, it all came out of a heart for truth. Mom, Dad, others—you are saints.
I expect a lot of Christians to hate the movie because it's not clean and it's not family friendly and it's actually pretty much the opposite of those things. I know such people still exist and likely always will, but it'll also always bum me out.
Life isn't clean or family friendly. Jesus wasn't clean or family-friendly. Jesus didn't go around trying to make people feel bad for being at a party. What he did was inspire people to make their lives better. Often, ironically, this means avoiding parties sometimes. But that's a rabbit trail we'll go down another day.
Look—there is value in family-friendly Christian movies like Fireproof and its cousins. I won't knock them; they're not my favorite movies, but they have their place.
But sometimes we need a more raw experience, something that fearlessly looks at the sad and often crushing reality of life and then, in the middle of the storm, also shows us the most unexpected hope and, even better, grace.
Blue Like Jazz does that.
On Friday, April 13, the movie Blue Like Jazz opens in limited release, with an expanded release due to follow. Click here for locations and to buy tickets.