A fuzzy faith-based comedy-drama based on a true story, Steve Taylor’s Blue Like Jazz shortchanges the religious aspects of the story in order to pump up its comedic first two-thirds filled with off-the-wall characters and outrageous college shenanigans that emphasize its hipness. When the time comes to pump up the gospel-laden aspects of the story, the movie fumbles at the very moment it should be scoring. It’s an honest try to bring a Christian-centered movie to the masses, but it ultimately misses its mark.
Blue Like Jazz (Blu-ray)
Directed by Steve Taylor
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 107 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish
MSRP: $ 39.99
Release Date: August 7, 2012
Review Date: August 5, 2012
When super serious Christian Don (Marshall Allman) figures out on the day he’s leaving to attend a Christian college in Texas that his divorced mother (Jenny Littleton) is having an affair with the married youth pastor (Jason Marsden) of their church, Don takes up his father’s (Eric Lange) offer to go to a secular school – Reed College in Portland, Oregon – and learns quickly that Christians there need to put their religious affiliations in the closet and open their minds to other points of view. So, for his entire freshman year, Don involves himself in a wide variety of campus insurrection groups, becomes close friends with lesbian Lauryn (Tania Raymonde), becomes the right hand man to a longtime student atheist called The Pope (Justin Welborn), and meets the cute, self-effacing Penny (Claire Holt) who’s a Christian who doesn’t wear her religion on her sleeve but rather displays a faith-through-deeds approach to Christianity. Her example is what sets Don to thinking about his own faith or lack thereof.
Clearly relishing the portions set at Reed College which delve in the hijinks of the students as they explore the boundaries they can push (putting a giant condom on a church steeple, invading a book store as robots, massive book burnings), director Steve Taylor (who co-authored the screenplay with original book author Donald Miller and Ben Pearson) never really finds a satisfactory way to work his setting-conflict-climax-resolution plot diagram into this real-life film story (much is made of these four plot elements during the movie, so it’s ironic the writer-director couldn’t fashion his film to fit smoothly into his own guidelines). The film lurches through its story with hazy motivations (Don loses a lifetime of faith because his mother has an affair with a pastor?) and a muddled resolution (how Don regains his own faith seems more motivated by his love and respect for Penny than anything he’s done to work things out for himself). We want to see Don have that epiphany, that one moment that shows him the hypocrisy of those around him has nothing to do with his own beliefs, but we don’t get it leaving us with a conclusion that seems a bit haphazard and more than a little dishonest, working things out just so the movie can come to an end.
Marshall Allman plays Don with a rather fetching innocence, but that can only go so far when carrying the movie on his shoulders, and a lack of variety in his performance doesn’t help matters. Claire Holt is a rather bland Penny (though after viewing the bonus material, it’s clear she’s done well to disguise her non-American accent). Better are Tania Raymonde as the astute but later heartbroken Lauryn and especially Justin Welborn as The Pope whose every appearance is something to see. In minor roles, Eric Lange as Don’s father and Jason Marsden as the cheating pastor both add class to the movie with very professional performances.
Shot digitally, the film has been framed at 1.78:1 for this release and is presented in 10080p using the AVC codec. Contrast is a bit cloudy throughout and color timing is occasionally off (the teal skies are a dead giveaway). Flesh tones, however, are quite good. Black levels aren’t particularly deep, and there occasional blooming whites. The film has been divided into 16 chapters (though there is no chapter section on the main menu).
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix uses music to fill the majority of the surround channels during the movie. There is little in the way of ambient sounds mixed in to give some expansion to the rather limited soundstage. Dialogue is also quite discernible and has been placed in the center channel. Overall, however, you may find the volume set for the disc a bit extreme for your system.
The audio commentary is provided by writers Donald Miller, Steve Taylor (who also directed), and Ben Pearson (who also served as cinematographer). The three friends have a fine time discussing making the movie and are filled with praise for all the people who contributed to getting the movie made.
Unless otherwise noted, the bonus material is in 720p.
“Making Blue Like Jazz” is the most substantial video bonus feature, 11 ¾ minutes shot on the first and last days of filming and at a series of premieres around the country. Among those interviewed are star Marshall Allman and director Steve Taylor who discuss the film as a Christian movie about telling the truth.
“Master Class: Directing Actors on Set” is a 3 ¾-minute bit of silliness with director Steve Taylor attempting to give pointless direction to the actors, the animals, even the sets. It’s in 1080p.
There are a series of (mostly) fake deleted shots with on-screen explanations about why they were cut. This montage runs 2 minutes.
There are over three dozen behind-the-scenes color stills which the viewer can step through.
“Save Blue Like Jazz” details the internet money raising campaign the producers created to get $150,000 so production on the movie could start. They raised more than double that amount from over four thousand contributors, all of whom are acknowledged in the closing credits. This runs 2 ¾ minutes.
“The Cast” introduces us to Marshall Allman, Claire Holt, Tania Raymonde, and Justin Welborn, the four stars of the movie in this brief 4 ¼-minute featurette.
“The Animator” brings stop motion animator Jonathan Richter to the fore to talk a bit about what he contributed to the movie. This runs 1 ¼ minutes.
“This Is My Story” is a brief featurette offering testimonials from those who had read the best-selling book and wanted to see it made into a film. It runs 3 ¼ minutes.
“The Music” introduces us to composer Danny Seim who shows us his (modest) recording studio but who really doesn’t have much to say. (Perhaps, this was another in-joke among the production team?) It runs 6 ½ minutes.
The theatrical trailer runs 2 ½ minutes in 1080p.
The disc offers promo trailers for Girl in Progress, The Music Never Stopped, and No Greater Love.
3/5 (not an average)
Admittedly, Blue Like Jazz is a different kind of faith-based story which may make it appeal more to the masses than a more rigorous Christian-centered film might have, but there are still dissatisfactions with the storytelling that may limit its appeal. A rental might be the wiser choice with this one.