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This moody little film about life at Reed College tries hard, but never fully connect....
Lionsgate / 106 Minutes / 2012 / Rated PG-13 / Street Date: August 7, 2012
It immediately draws both its filmmakers and viewers into murky territory, but I suppose it's fair to say Blue Like Jazz is a hipster Christian movie. Directed by Christian singer Steve Taylor and set at Oregon's Reed College, the movie tackles issues of pretty massive import: in short, the film's protagonist is left to ponder the point of life, to decide whether the tenets of the religion he was raised with have continued merits in his adult life.
That being said, though, Blue Like Jazz has a serious issue of hitting things too distinctly on the nose. Instead of letting the narrative meditate on the dilemmas and questions at the movie's thematic center, Taylor goes out of his way to make specifically designed dramatic points that don't feel as organic as they should. The film is cute and often breezy in its youthful ardor, but it rarely makes a convincing case for itself.
The film follows Don (Marshall Allman) as leaves behind the shaky hyper-religious confines of his home in Texas to see what the world looks like through the lens of Reed College in Portland. Intent on opening himself to anything and everything that his new life offers - with, of course, some limitation - Don begins to see how folks approach life and the world around them from a variety of perspectives. This multiplicity opens Don's eyes, of course, but it also complicates the question of "Why am I here?" rather than isolating it.
Blue Like Jazz is a youthful picture, an altruistic picture, one that wears its heart on its sleeve, but like most youthful endeavors, it's more admirable than it is legitimately accomplished. Watching Don open himself to the world has moments of enjoyable newness - his face when a girl uses the boys' restroom at Reed is priceless - but Blue Like Jazz never makes good on its journeyman ethic. It strives to ponder deep concepts, but it ends up feeling more precious and preachy than provocative or transcendent.