Blue Like Jazz: The Movie Hits Theaters
A film version of Donald Miller’s bestselling book, Blue Like Jazz, hits theaters nationwide April 13 after a tour of pre-screenings and its world premiere at the South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas.
Miller's father, who loves jazz music, inspired the title. "I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn't resolve," Miller writes in his book, published in 2003. "I used to not like God because God didn't resolve. But that was before any of this happened."
In the movie, nineteen-year-old Don (Marshall Allman from True Blood) leaves his Southern Baptist lifestyle in Texas to attend Reed College, an actual university in Portland, Oregon renown for its tough academics and wild student life. Once there, Don untucks his polo from his khakis, stops combing his hair and shoves Christianity into his closet to experience Reed’s free spirited and progressive culture. When he finds out his mom is pregnant from an affair with his youth pastor, he completely abandons his old faith.
But an unlikely Christian girl named Penny (Claire Holt from The Vampire Diaries), a campus “pope” that burns religious books and a Russian atheist classmate keep God on Don’s mind.
When the credits roll, the viewer likely has more questions than answers, and that’s exactly what Miller and director Steve Taylor want.
“It’s not the normal Christian movie,” Taylor explained at the Mar. 8 New York pre-screening.
Blue Like Jazz: The Movie is the first “Christian” movie South by Southwest has ever premiered. The film eeked by on a $1.25 million budget and wouldn’t have happened at all if not for two dedicated fans from Franklin, Tenn.
Taylor came up with the idea of Blue Like Jazz: The Movie when he was involved with campus ministry at his alma mater, the University of Colorado. His background in singing, songwriting and filmmaking brought experience to the project, but without money the production couldn’t happen. After a year of failed fundraising, Taylor, Miller and their cinematographer Ben Pearson called off the project in Sept. 2010.
“The book that swept the country will not sweep theaters,” Miller blogged.
Then Jonathan Frazier and Zach Prichard set out to raise $125,000 in 30 days on their new website, savebluelikejazz.com. They raised more than $345,000 by day 30. Filming recommenced.
Like any book/movie combination, there are notable differences. In the book, Miller uses a series of essays to earnestly explore his “nonreligious” return to Jesus after a spell of emptiness and loneliness. As a 31-year-old, he was auditing classes at Reed. “The book is an internal monologue,” Miller said.
The film, however, needed a plot. Miller, Taylor and Pearson wrote the script loosely from Miller’s book and life but also with a few embellishments.
One such embellishment is Don’s mom’s affair. Miller asked his mom what she thought about the twist, and she said she would “take one for the team.” Before a family screening of the movie, Miller thanked her. “You were serious?” she said. “My mom is a very funny woman,” Miller said later, recounting the story.
The film is rated PG-13 for profanity, sexual references and general debauchery. According to Miller, the film is still much toned down from the true Reed scene.
Miller hopes the film will start more conversations about religion and God. And Miller insists, “Don never really stopped believing.”