Published Dec 01, 2002The end result of Project Greenlight an online script-writing contest turned HBO documentary about the trials and tribulations of winner, unknown first-time director Pete Jones Stolen Summer is a curiosity that will receive a fair amount of interest from its origins, regardless of whether it is good. Produced by Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Chris Moore, during the selection process Damon states that "if Stolen Summer works, it's Stand By Me and if it fails, it's an after-school special."
Stolen Summer isn't Stand By Me, it's better than an after school special. It's the story of eight-year-old Pete O'Malley's religious journey and quest for spiritual salvation set against mid-'70s era Chicago. Convinced he's going to hell, Pete sets out to convert those of Jewish faith to Catholicism, à la Saint Peter, and befriends/recruits a young Jewish boy named Danny, the son of a local rabbi, who is also dying from cancer.
The two embark upon their quest to get Danny into heaven by completing a series of "tests," despite the objections of Pete's father and the concern of the local Jewish community. First-time director Pete Jones gets incredibly strong performances from the likes of Aidan Quinn (Joe O'Malley), Kevin Pollack (Rabbi Jacobsen), Bonnie Hunt (Margaret O'Malley) and Brian Dennehy (Father Kelly), and Stolen Summer is a compelling, if not overly linear story that draws on the boys' friendship and parental conflicts for its drive. But where Stolen Summer falters is with the erratic performances of the two child actors, which is unfortunate, since they appear in the majority of the scenes.
Sometimes sounding like they're delivering dialogue, others like they can barely restrain their laughter and occasionally conveying the dramatic depth required, the children's performances appear all the more uneven when compared to Quinn or Pollack. However, Stolen Summer has heart and a message, and is a good debut from Jones, which is a far stronger movie than the internal strife-oriented Project Greenlight documentary would lead one to believe.