Disclaimer: I watched the movie before reading the book. In fact, I still have yet to read the book.
Somehow I managed to miss what the big deal was about Blue Like Jazz. I knew that it was a book that had come out during my youth group days, that it had something to do with Christianity, and that about half of my friends seemed to love it and think it was one of the most amazing books that Christianity had produced in years. The other half of my friends seemed to hate it with the same level of passion, accusing it of everything from theological fluff to viewing truth as relative. I still didn’t know much about the book.
Fast forward ten years and all of a sudden, Blue Like Jazz is making the same sort of waves. Apparently it was big enough that someone decided it was worth making it into a movie.
I’m glad they did.
I finally watched Blue Like Jazz last night, and I really enjoyed it. Was it the best movie I’ve ever seen? Not at all. Was it one of the best movies I’ve ever seen? The answer is still no. I didn’t much care for the animated scenes involving astronauts, bunnies, or carrots; some of the acting felt a little stiff and some of the dialogue felt a little forced; the objectionable content means that I won’t be able to recommend this movie to everyone I would like.
Nevertheless, this is what Christian cinema has been needing: well-made art with relatable characters, a story that many can connect with, and preaches Jesus explicitly without cramming it down your throat. I actually like movies like Fireproof, but I think it’s sad that for so long, they have defined the best of what Christian cinema has to offer. Blue Like Jazz is relevant without being wishy-washy, and talks about Jesus without being cheesy.
While many people voiced strong disapproval of Blue Like Jazz, here are the reasons I loved it.
1. It portrayed a Christianity that’s real and relevant to the world.
While far from perfect, Penny doesn’t share Jesus by quoting Bible verses through a megaphone. She gets involved in social causes, expressing her love of Jesus through caring for the poor in India. Her passion for the poor and the marginalized catches the attention of the student body, as even the atheist lesbian takes the time to come hear Penny speak about her time in India. And like Penny, this movie preaches Christ by showing who He is, even if His name isn’t mentioned explicitly as often as some may prefer. The Christianity portrayed here is quite like the religion spoken of by Micah, who says to “Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God,” or James, who says that true religion is “caring for orphans and widows, and keeping oneself unstained by the world.”
2. It invites us to experience Jesus, rather than just telling us who He is.
Many evangelicals seem to have a hard time with the idea that some people start following Jesus before they understand concepts like sin, justification, and atonement. While it’s true that one cannot accept the Jesus who reached out to the poor and the outcast, but reject the same Jesus who preached sin and the need for repentance, the Bible doesn’t say you must understand all of the theology of salvation in its entirety before following Jesus. Some people find Him when they recognize their sin and recognize that Jesus paid the price. Others find Him when they see the suffering in the world and realize that Jesus came to give good news to the broken. This is not a view of salvation that is works-based or denies the need for a personal savior. It simply recognizes that while Jesus is the only way, not everyone comes to Jesus in the same way. The gospel is not simply the good news of forgiveness for sins. As shown many times through the Bible, the gospel is a new way that brings hope to all corners of a hurting world. This is something important that I believe the movie gets right.
3. It showed a Christianity that embraces humility.
One review of Blue Like Jazz was disappointed at the apology that Don gives at the end of the movie. The reviewer seemed to think that by apologizing for how Christianity has failed, Don was somehow ashamed of the gospel. I think the reviewer missed the point entirely. Apologizing for Christianity’s failings is not apologizing for God. And Don wasn’t just apologizing for the general failings of Christianity. Rather, he was specific in how he had failed to represent who Jesus really is. This didn’t come from a posture of shame, but from a posture of humility. A posture that recognized failure to live up to the calling that Jesus has given us as His disciples. Jesus himself was incredibly humble. As the world continues to ask why Jesus is relevant, we must be willing to recognize that mirroring the humility of Christ does more to honor Him than winning apologetics arguments.
Have you seen Blue Like Jazz? What did you like? Not like? What do you think it got right? Where do you think it could have been improved?