29 May 2012

Could Be More Like Jazz

When his mother gets involved with the youth pastor, Don escapes Texas and takes the place his father got him at Reed College in Portland, Ore.

Don is sympathetic and well acted, and the relationships with the other characters make the movie. Director Steve Taylor occasionally approaches the gritty dysfunction of “Sideways” or “Juno.” And when he does, the film bumps into real questions about pedophile priests, the meaning of beauty, and whether life ever resolves.

We see Don hurt by his mother, fitting in to his new surroundings, and rushing off an embarrassing old friend. But losing faith isn’t as easy as changing the way he combs his hair, and it’s further complicated by a socially enlightened Christian named Penny. 

When a practical joke unexpectedly affects Penny, Don begins to understand others on their own terms, and this development sets up some of the movie's best moments. But he’s only just beginning to recognize his fallibility.

He never fully questions his individualism. When he exchanges one fundamentalism for another, he appears just as certain of his new convictions as he was of the old ones. He experiences being mislead, but not being wrong. So when he talks about confessing the sins of Christendom—from the crusades to American foreign policy—it feels more like a punch line than empathy for human suffering.

The frank portrayal of student life breaks “new ground” for a “Christian film,” but it's unclear why a film named for an improvisational music style self-consciously drags its viewers through "setting, conflict, climax, and resolution." 

The film’s central strength—it’s honest portrayal of a young man’s struggle—is also its central limitation, since it also can't get past its main character's biases and stereotypes. Still, the storytellers capture the relational complexities of faith, and not many have tried that.

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