Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Blue Like Jazz
I've been seeing some movie adaptations lately and have concluded I enjoy the movie better if I haven't ever read the book. Part of what led me to this conclusion was seeing Blue Like Jazz. I went to the movie knowing it was not going to really be what most people traditionally think of when they think of a movie adaptation of a book. Not only did I have the hints and trailer from Donald Miller's blog, I had his book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, which tells the story of the creation of the story for the movie that eventually became BLJ (and is generally pretty great), and anyone who reads about how they wrestled with the nonfiction story to craft a fictional story with a more traditional plot had to know the movie would not be the book made into a film. I would hazard to say that anyone who read the book would know that it wasn't really suitable to be made into a movie as is.
I read reviews that varied really wildly (the kind that make you wonder if they saw the same movie). They were not bad reviews because they identified exactly what they liked/disliked clearly enough that potential viewers might be able to tell if this movie was something they should see. I went in really not knowing what to expect.
It wasn't a bad movie. It was well-produced/filmed. The music was fitting. The acting was sometimes uneven, but the cringe-worthy moments were pretty rare.
The big problem for me was not the overall story/character arc in the details of the plot. I irked myself by being irritated with the plot. They worked so hard on the thing, and I read about it in A Million Miles, and I guess I expected there wouldn't be any smoking guns/loose ends. They had to re-make it from scratch, basically, so it wasn't like they had to make agonizing decisions about which plot threads to leave in and which to excise, as is often the case with books adapted into movies. So why were there still these things included that were not vitally necessary?
Example: the best friend thread served no real purpose. There was a great setup, and I kept waiting for the resolution, and they just abandoned it, leaving the gun sitting there, feeling sheepish. You don't keep stuff like this in your movie if you want it to be really excellent. Was it Flannery O'Connor who talked about killing the darlings during editing? Best friend, you had a couple of funny moments in the beginning, but they were not actually vital/related to the real story. Being crude and funny was not enough to justify your existence. When you came back later, you were used to show us things the movie had already clearly shown us about the main character, and then you set up something that never panned out. I hate to say it, but you were redundant and useless. Best friend, you should have been on the cutting room floor, not because of your acting but because of your lack of relevance to the overall story. Don and the guys should have known this!
It is, of course, easy to point fingers. They were not my darlings. It's a movie that is still worth seeing for reasons similar to reasons why the book is worth reading: these stories start conversations people should be having. Do I maybe wish for something more like a dramatized documentary based on the book? Well, yes. But that's not what they were trying to do, so my expectations on that score are irrelevant.
Does this adaptation succeed in the end? Well, maybe. If it managed to somehow rope in a wider audience who had not read the book and made them go out and read the book or have conversations, then it did. I just don't know if that's what happened.