About once a month, I treat myself to a little something I like to call No-Hat Day. No-Hat Day is when I temporarily cast off all the roles I try to fill in my life and do something that is purely me in the moment. For a few hours, I’m neither doting mother nor dutiful daughter, boss nor subordinate, seeker nor sought; I can just be. It’s a self-prescribed therapy, I suppose, and I love it.
Yesterday was my most recent No-Hat Day, and it will probably surprise no one to learn that I spent the time in a movie theater. This was no casual jaunt to the cinema for the diversion of the day, however. Instead, I got up early and traveled 45 minutes in the soaking rain (perfect) in order to fulfill a three-year-old dream: I finally got to see Blue Like Jazz.
Yes, I know it’s not as hotly anticipated as, say, The Dark Knight Rises or maybe even Madagascar 3, but I have a deep emotional connection to this movie. You see, Donald Miller (author of the book whence the movie gets its name) is a close, personal friend of mine. At least, it has felt that way ever since he led our Sunday School class several years ago via the Blue Like Jazz audio book. I forged some of my best friendships in that class during a very difficult time in my life. While my heart churned with all the grief and darkness of divorce, our class conversations plumbed the spiritual depths of such heady topics as community, worship, and penguin sex. It was just the tonic I needed, and I expected no less from the movie.
That’s not to say I went into it blind to all possibility of fault. I am a movie fiend to the core, and I have been burned by films that I wanted to be great. Actually, Donald Miller himself raised my standards for what makes good film by introducing me to the works of Robert McKee, Blake Snyder, and Steven Pressfield. So I am not only capable of noticing flaws; I can be quite obsessive when I perceive them.
In that vein, I did notice that Act I felt a bit rushed. I wanted to be more invested in Don’s relationships at home before he left, and I would have liked a more detailed transition for him than simply to drive away from church and end up at college with cases and boxes magically in tow. I was also ready for more in the bookstore debate that Don attended – more intellectual substance to the arguments and fewer off-the-cuff remarks about feelings. I know that BLJ the book spends time on the sense of awe that seems to transcend realism, but the topic seemed out of place in a public debate. These blips were superficial, though, and didn’t detract from the story much.
However, to my acute dismay, I found BLJ guilty of my greatest cinematic pet peeve: sunny rain. I hate it when there is a moment in the story that is clearly supposed to take place in near-monsoon levels of precipitation and you can totally tell that the sun was shining when they shot it. It’s seeing the man behind the curtain. I know it’s unavoidable sometimes, and they try to cover it up with special effects, but it breaks my engagement from the story because I can’t help but see the rain machine just outside of the shot. Instead of feeling the sadness or turmoil of the moment that the rain is supposed to represent, I have to try to feel it. Of course that’s a personal issue, and probably reveals more about flaws in me than in the movie.
Beyond that, I have nothing but praise.
My favorite character was Lauren. Every good story has a counterpart who will challenge the protagonist by exposing or contradicting his point of view, and Lauren was the perfect counterpart to Don, the Han Solo to his Luke Skywalker. She also embodied perfectly the ironic tension of church meets anti-church. In the same scene wherein she celebrated her own freedom by coming out as a lesbian, she exhorted Don to closet himself as a Christian for the sake of survival. Likewise, he is constantly shocked by and speechless at her brass, but follows her lead and sometimes borders on using her for street cred. I loved their dynamic.
In fact, my favorite thing about the whole movie may have been its unapologetic equal treatment given to the characters. Lauren and the Pope were equally as likeable, flawed, intelligent, and honorable as Don and Penny. Thus a glancing reference to Ephesians 6 became a brilliant thread from the conflict through the resolution. In the beginning, Don’s hokey, earnest-but-missing-it youth pastor tries to protect Don from the enemy, found in sin and unbelievers, through a cheesy rendition of the armor of God. In the end, Don comes closer to the heart of the passage: that the enemy is found not in people, but in the powers of injustice, pain, and disappointment – powers that hold sway over everyone in some area or another. This is a message not found in many movies of any genre, and it cheered me.
Finally, I can’t talk about this movie without visiting the great confession booth scene. I am firmly anti-spoiler, so I won’t reveal any of the details, but I will tell you I cried. I cried for Don and his quiet acceptance. I cried for all the people suffering from unresolved pain in the world. Most surprisingly, I cried for myself because I want to be more like Don. When I was navigating all of that pain and disappointment back in Sunday School, I was never brave enough to run into the world with arms wide open like he did – in rebellion or otherwise. I simply processed and buried it and curled up on the couch, secure in my excuse to live a sheltered and ordinary life.
All of this bears much more thought and will probably resurface in future blog entries. This one being more than long enough, I conclude now by offering public thanks here to Steve Taylor, Ben Pearson, and all those many names in the credits for bringing this project into the world – and especially to my good friend Don Miller for challenging me and calling me out and faithfully continuing to wield the pen.