Blue Like Jazz
Blue Like Jazz is based on the 2003 bestselling Christian book of the same title—but you should probably take that with a grain of salt. I'm not entirely sure how comfortable author Donald Miller would be with the "Christian book" label, but it was released by a Christian publisher (Thomas Nelson), a lot of evangelicals bought it, and it is filed under the "Christian life" section at Barnes & Noble. But what both the book and the movie ultimately deliver are spelled out in the book's subtitle: "Non-religious thoughts on Christian spirituality."
For those who love Jesus and movies, the implications of that promise are decidedly mixed. On the plus side, much like the book it's based upon, Blue Like Jazz is anything but a typical "Christian movie." Besides, director Steve Taylor, a long-time rocker known for irreverent satire and his disdain of schmaltz, has rarely done anything typically "Christian." Taylor brings this movie the kind of grit (read: off-color humor, some brutal satirizations of evangelical subculture, and even some four-letter words) that you won't find in, say, Courageous. And he does a lot with a little, budget-wise; this film was financed largely via Kickstarter, and while the production values are not exactly high, it is nevertheless a quirky and genuinely funny indie. The acting is solid, if unremarkable, though Marshall Allman (who plays Don) deserves kudos for playing a character who is essentially a blank canvas, and making him someone we sympathize with and are engaged by.
The downside? Separating "Christian spirituality" from the fundamentals of the gospel message means, in the case of Miller's book, an emphasis on feelings and experience, on social justice and an individual search for truth. Little traction is given to the mortification of sin, to the atoning significance of the Cross, and so forth. In the movie, it means we get a vivid portrait of where evangelical culture has gone wrong, but the alternative we're given is a "Christian spirituality" that emphasizes all the wrong things (and pretty much excludes Christ himself).
Not that it falls on the film to lay out a full gospel presentation. Blue Like Jazz, the movie, does us a crucial service by illuminating some ways in which some churches—and churchgoers—have lost the plot. (That the film itself fumbles in vain to find that plot is lamentable, but, given the narrow focus of Miller's book, not surprising.)
Working from a screenplay that he adapted with Miller and Ben Pearson, Taylor translates the interior monologues of the book into a narrative about a young man—also called Don Miller—who flees the church culture of his youth in abject disillusionment. The hypocrisies of the faithful have grown too burdensome, and his own faith is too malnourished, for him to bear it any longer. He escapes into a secular university—Portland's Reed College—where he's bombarded with the anti-faith screeds of professors and classmates. Naturally, these add fuel to the fire of movie-Don's unbelief—but where the film works most sharply is in showing how the church itself failed him.