Blue Like Jazz is a run of the mill coming of age story where white kids search for the meaning of life through debauchery, pontification, and tomfoolery.
Don is an assistant youth pastor finishing junior college in a small Texas town and getting ready to go to a nearby Baptist college. He takes pride in being the only man in his mother’s life after his parents’ divorce though his disdain for his father doesn’t keep him from regular visits. Out of concern for his “brainwashed” son, dear old Dad secretly enrolls Don at Reed University in Portland, Oregon. Don is initially not interested, but at his church’s going away service, Don discovers his mother is sleeping with the married youth pastor and decides to make good use of his father’s presumptive actions, driving away to Portland.
Reed University is a “free-spirited” school with a virtually anti-Christian campus, in the vein of being progressive from oppressive religion. Don’s new lesbian friend offers advice early on to keep his love for Jesus in the closet, the irony of which doesn’t dawn on him. Due to the betrayal he feels from his church and in an effort to fit in, he does just that. The new surroundings give way to behavior uncharacteristic of Don and culminate in a realization of who he really is and how to be comfortable with that.
Blue Like Jazz uses music from John Coltrane’s classic A Love Supreme album as Don’s go-to when he needs to think. There is an underscore of a love for astronomy, and Don remarks that God is composing a song with the stars in the sky, blue like jazz. The jazz reference feels forced, as if they wanted it to resonate deeply in a teen comedy, but it falls flat.
Blue Like Jazz is a reminder of how white privilege gives way to emptiness, where white kids hunger to fill the voids of not being an oppressed people, seeking causes to champion in order to feel whole. I don’t sympathize with rich white girls taking a moratorium on clothes to take a stand against consumerism. I don’t empathize with these spoiled white kids spending a night in jail for going against water bottlers for taking resources from Indian villages. It’s hard to really care about these characters when they can do things like flit off to India on a whim after an earthquake to “save the people” while they do zero to combat racism and systemic white supremacy on their own soil. Instead, they come back to the cushy existence with cutesy pics of the journey and charming tales of the natives’ love for them, their saviours.
The characters offer witty one-liners and clever observations, the type of wry humor of agnostics ubiquitous on college campuses across the country, but Blue Like Jazz is not cerebral enough to be an intellectual comedy, not biting or offensive enough to be sardonic or satirical, not bawdy enough to be a teen comedy, and with no romance, falls flat.
The film is whole milk in corn flakes, flavorless but doesn’t leave a bad taste in your mouth. You just forgot you ate it.
Worth a DVD rental if you’re just out of college or younger.