Given all the faith-based films that give short shrift to storytelling while hammering home the message, “Blue Like Jazz” feels like fresh air blowing through a musty church basement. Based on Donald Miller's semi-autobiographical coming-of-age book about a pious teenager attending a West Coast liberal arts college, the themes in “Blue Like Jazz” will be familiar to those who follow the career of director Steve Taylor, an alt-Christian musician who is known as one of the more rebellious artists in his field.
Donald (Marshall Allman) is a member of a Southern Baptist congregation in Houston, a church that seals itself off from the world and has more than its share of hypocrites. After discovering that his divorced mother doesn't practice what she preaches, he takes his ex-hippie father's advice and goes to Reed College, a small school in Portland, Ore., populated by counterculture kids.
At first, Donald finds it difficult to navigate the environment, but in short order he is swimming with the current, discarding his faith and embracing new ideas. But not everyone at Reed is anti-God, and when he meets Penny (Claire Holt of “The Vampire Diaries”), an environmental and anti-hunger activist who also regularly goes to church, Donald discovers the happy medium between extremes.
Taylor is an unusual character in contemporary Christian music, a guy who fell in love with The Clash as a teenager and has spent his career making provocative statements about the establishment in his business and his faith. Although this is Miller's story, “Blue Like Jazz” plays like “Steve Taylor: The Movie,” depicting Donald as finding, through considerable trial and error, the style of belief that suits him. Taylor and Miller collaborated in adapting Miller's book, and the film is powered by smart dialogue and important questions about belief and nonbelief. It never feels like the faith-based films that exist only to get a point across: “Blue Like Jazz” has a story to tell.
‘Blue Like Jazz'
PG-131:46 3 stars
Starring: Marshall Allman, Claire Holt. (Mature thematic material, sexuality, drug and alcohol content, and some language)