Based off the Donald Miller novel of the same name, Blue Like Jazz tells the story of Donald “Don” Miller (Allman), a young soon-to-be college freshman who’s completely enraptured in his baptist lifestyle in his home state of Texas. The conservative and sheltered Don is all ready to go to a nearby Baptist college when his world is turned upside down after suspecting his mother to be having an affair with his church’s married youth pastor (Marsden). Fortunately for Don, his eccentric pothead father (Eric Lange) has enrolled him in the liberal, and “god-less” Reed College, in Portland, Oregon. After he realizes that part of his life is a complete fraud in addition to some life lessons from his father, Don quickly decides to head to Reed. Don soon experiences many new things at Reed from girl troubles, to partying, and even to questioning his own Baptist upbringing and beliefs in “god”. Blue Like Jazz is not your typical coming of age tale with it’s controversial plot lines, eccentric characters, and twists throughout the film.
Character Development and Dialogue
One of the best parts about this movie was easily how intricate each of the characters were even if they had only been on screen for a short time. Unlike a TV show, films have a very short amount of time to establish a character and Blue Like Jazz succeeds in giving in-depth personalities with limited dialogue. The two best characters were Don’s father and one of his schoolmates known as “The Pope” (Justin Welborn). Although Don’s father is only in the film for a short scene, it’s one of the most impacting scenes that haunts Don and the movie itself for its entire duration. Don’s father lives in a trailer in the woods and does in fact seem to be very in touch with nature, paralleling the spirituality of the typical Texan baptist culture who believe in a “god” and religion with his own belief in Jazz as a life savior. The scene is filled with epic quotes and life lessons for Don to take on his journey to the Northwest corner of America including my favorite, “Jazz is like life, it doesn’t resolve.”
Once at school, Don meets a fellow Reed student who rides around campus ironically sporting a “Pope” hat and garb, and has some of the best witticisms, attitude, and quotes of the film. The Pope opens Don’s eyes to the ideas of living not for a “god” but for yourself. As a participant in Don’s open-forum English class, The Pope is able to give in depth opinions at will and makes for one great antagonizer and accomplice. The Pope is also a very important character, the one who tells Don about Renn Fayre, the festival at Reed College which, without giving too much away, will eventually rebirth Don into the new stages of his life.
Another cool thing about Blue Like Jazz is that you never knew quite what was going to happen next. I generally consider myself a “jaded-movie friend”, a term coined by comedian Nick Swardson, and it basically just means that I feel like I’ve seen it all before. But Blue Like Jazz had even me surprised. Like I said, the characters were well developed, so much so that they were like real people, and did unexpected things. After Don develops a crush on classmate and activist Penny (Claire Holt), he sees her in a new light. While Don is breaking out of his shell, Penny seems to have something holding her back and isn’t the character she originally seemed.
The content of the movie itself was controversial and unpredictable. While many are offended by a question of their faith, Don strives through his uncertainties. He begins to look for a god or religion or something in his new environment to help him belong. But because he doesn’t know exactly what he’s looking for, it allows for anything to happen and an even more dynamic plot of twists.
Don’s interest in writing led him to learn of the acronym SCCR: Setting, Conflict, Climax, Resolution. The movie is told using the device and really helps to tie the movie together. Don can often refer to the SCCR or “sucker” concept in order to take breaks in the past-tense story, bringing us up the speed in the present. It was a unique way to tell the story and keep the time frame relevant during Don’s flash backs and forwards.
Towards the end, Blue Like Jazz struggled to resolve itself, ironically, much like Don’s father said about Jazz in the beginning of the film. The monologues and dialogues toward the end got lengthy and the pace got slower. What was primarily a quick-witted and rapid film became a bit dragged out for the last half hour.
Random Animation Scene
For the depiction of Don’s trip from Texas to Oregon, the movie featured a random, trippy, animated road trip scene. Don turned into a rabbit driving his car, following a carrot on his way to cross the country. Once he got there, regular filming resumed and there were people dressed as a rabbit and a carrot running around the campus. The couple in the costumes were featured in other scenes of the movie but no other animation of the kind was. It was random, awkward, bizarre and really just didn’t fit with anything.
Buy It, Rent It, or Skip It:
You’ll definitely want to rent Blue Like Jazz. It’s a fresh and innovative look at an otherwise taboo subject for mainstream media. The film proves that everyone can have their own answer about the meanings of life and the relevance of a religion. There’s several memorable scenes, quotes, and characters as well as a story-line that will have you discussing it long after you’ve finished the movie. Blue Like Jazz is funny, charming, charismatic and above all, worth your time to see.
‘Blue Like Jazz’ Trailer: