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Review - Flavorless "Blue Like Jazz" Falls Flat

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by Monique A. Williams
March 21, 2012 10:35 AM
10 Comments
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blue like jAZZ

Blue Like Jazz is a run of the mill coming of age story where white kids search for the meaning of life through debauchery, pontification, and tomfoolery.

Don is an assistant youth pastor finishing junior college in a small Texas town and getting ready to go to a nearby Baptist college. He takes pride in being the only man in his mother’s life after his parents' divorce though his disdain for his father doesn't keep him from regular visits. Out of concern for his "brainwashed" son, dear old Dad secretly enrolls Don at Reed University in Portland, Oregon. Don is initially not interested, but at his church's going away service, Don discovers his mother is sleeping with the married youth pastor and decides to make good use of his father's presumptive actions, driving away to Portland.

Reed University is a "free-spirited" school with a virtually anti-Christian campus, in the vein of being progressive from oppressive religion. Don’s new lesbian friend offers advice early on to keep his love for Jesus in the closet, the irony of which doesn't dawn on him. Due to the betrayal he feels from his church and in an effort to fit in, he does just that. The new surroundings give way to behavior uncharacteristic of Don and culminate in a realization of who he really is and how to be comfortable with that.

Blue Like Jazz uses music from John Coltrane's classic A Love Supreme album as Don's go-to when he needs to think. There is an underscore of a love for astronomy, and Don remarks that God is composing a song with the stars in the sky, blue like jazz. The jazz reference feels forced, as if they wanted it to resonate deeply in a teen comedy, but it falls flat.

Blue Like Jazz is a reminder of how white privilege gives way to emptiness, where white kids hunger to fill the voids of not being an oppressed people, seeking causes to champion in order to feel whole. I don’t sympathize with rich white girls taking a moratorium on clothes to take a stand against consumerism. I don't empathize with these spoiled white kids spending a night in jail for going against water bottlers for taking resources from Indian villages. It's hard to really care about these characters when they can do things like flit off to India on a whim after an earthquake to "save the people" while they do zero to combat racism and systemic white supremacy on their own soil. Instead, they come back to the cushy existence with cutesy pics of the journey and charming tales of the natives' love for them, their saviours.

The characters offer witty one-liners and clever observations, the type of wry humor of agnostics ubiquitous on college campuses across the country, but Blue Like Jazz is not cerebral enough to be an intellectual comedy, not biting or offensive enough to be sardonic or satirical, not bawdy enough to be a teen comedy, and with no romance, falls flat.

The film is whole milk in corn flakes, flavorless but doesn't leave a bad taste in your mouth. You just forgot you ate it.

Worth a DVD rental if you're just out of college or younger.

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10 Comments

  • James Williams | April 11, 2012 3:35 PMReply

    This review contains many racist statements, then contains complaints about racism in America. Not sure what to do with that. I hope you don't hate white people simply because they are white, but a reading of this review leads me to that conclusion. I really hope I'm wrong.

  • EDY | April 8, 2012 10:14 PMReply

    Your review is seen through a lens that sounds like a graduate course I took on the interlocking systems of oppression in America, about postmodern materialist feminism, and how white America doesn't see itself as raced. All valid points...none of which this movie concerns itself with. Come on, there are better ways to forward your agenda. And please, no more reverse discrimination...

  • Uh oh | April 3, 2012 10:16 PMReply

    Monique, you must not have realized that the DonMillerists would attack you so for writing a poor review. Honestly, I've been anxious to read some reviews not written by fan boys so I could determine if I should see the movie. It's quite telling that no mainstream critics have seen it yet, but I'm sure you weren't prepared for the DonMillerists ... They believe two people walk on water.

  • Monique A. Williams | April 4, 2012 5:51 PM

    Thanks Uh Oh. I can only write honestly and anyone who has a problem with it causes me no sleepless nights. I went into the theater with an open mind and left with a bored soul. But I did mention that some of the dialogue was witty, right? :)

  • Kaiser Sose | April 1, 2012 10:34 AMReply

    Arrogance is common to all people, even well meaning Film reviewers.

  • Holly A | March 30, 2012 2:54 PMReply

    "Blue Like Jazz is a reminder of how white privilege gives way to emptiness, where white kids hunger to fill the voids of not being an oppressed" Not only is the comment racist, it misses the point and demonstrates a total lack of understanding about the Christian experience in modern America.

  • Thom | March 29, 2012 12:00 PMReply

    And just what does this film have to do with this blog anyway? Fail.

  • Kevin | March 29, 2012 11:32 AMReply

    I don't get how this review has any merit simply because it judges the film on what the reviewer wanted to see in it. If the story wasn't about race relations and the plight of African Americans in the 21st century, how can it be judged against that standard?

    Sure it wasn't the greatest, most poignant thing to grace a theater screen, but to write it off simply because the characters didn't act like you wanted them to or care about what you care about, is nearsighted at best.

  • urbanauteur | March 21, 2012 8:08 PMReply

    i would love to see black british writer-Zadie Smith take on this..;_0

  • Traci R. | March 21, 2012 1:26 PMReply

    Aww this sucks. I liked the book a lot...in spite of the tinges of white privilege that peek through the author's questions about his faith. Sounds like really took a like of creative liberties in re-working into a film script. Ah, oh well. I'll still watch anyway... the school they refer to Reed University is an obvious allusion to Reed College...the school where I teach. Will be interesting to see how the depict our students.

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