Stolen Summer (1 of 4)

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Stolen Summer tells the story of an eight-year-old Catholic boy, Pete, who begins a quest at the beginning of the summer to “convert” someone (anyone) to Catholicism and get them into Heaven. Set in a 1970’s Chicago-land suburbia, Pete bikes around the neighborhoods until he finds is a synagogue and a graceful Rabbi, played by Kevin Pollak. 

Pollak’s character, Rabbi Jacobsen has a hard life-very hard. His secretary and good friend dies in a tragic fire, his congregation is apathetic, his faith is decaying, and his son-who is seven-is dying of leukemia. But the movie even though it could have been isn’t really about him. He moves the plot through his acquaintance with Pete, and by introducing his son Danny to the young Catholic missionary.

Danny and Pete, although stiff and obviously over-directed, bring a lightness into the movie. Their summertime adventure made me wish I was their age again, but most summer movies affect me this way. Pete, eventually, connects the dots (slower than any viewer will) that Danny–the Jewish boy–isn’t going to Heaven, and that he is a perfect candidate for conversion.

BUT, he’s eight. And being eight Pete himself doesn’t know how to get to Heaven, let alone lead someone else there. So he makes up his own tests of faith, which look like a series of 7 and 8 year-old decathlon events. One of which includes swimming out to a buoy and back (not as dangerous as it sounds).

The film is already played out when the plot surfaces. Everything is expected. Of course Danny completes his decathlon and dies from his cancer. Tragic. Pete tells Rabbi Jacobson that Danny is in Heaven, because-like all good Catholics-Pete believes there are many ways through the pearly gates. This is my biggest problem with the movie. Instead of understanding Catholicism or Judaism Pete ends up accepting some new-age Hindu mentality that all paths lead to the same place.

What I did like, besides Pollak, who impressed me by acting along-side such unconvincing child-actors, was Pete’s family drama. There was another story in Stolen Summer, one between Pete’s older brother Patrick and his parents that was far more interesting and memorable than the film’s focus.

Aidan Quinn, Bonnie Hunt and Eddie Kaye Thomas all have great chemistry in their parent to oldest child conflict. The acting is genuine-especially from Quinn and Hunt. The weight of their marriage on the line in the decisions about the family is heavy. And Quinn is…intense. In fact, Quinn was so good I’m planning on finding more of his work.

I give it 1 of 4 because the movie didn’t move me. The frequent bad acting, probably due to over-direction, and story flaws I can’t live with detract major points from this little movie. Director Pete Jones didn’t do badly, I just wish he had the guts his little Pete character did. I wanted the movie to say something, and say something important. Something worthwhile and relevant. But when the moment of truth came, it ended simply chickening out.

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  1. I like what you siad here in your last paragraph. “I wanted the movie to say something, and say something important. Something worthwhile and relevant.” I think this is what we all want from our teachers, our movies, our books, our preachers. We want somebody to tell us something meaningful. We want life to matter. We want our moments to matter.

    Films (or classrooms or sermons or books) that can do that will always be timeless and that is what our hearts that were made for eternity will eternally crave.

    • Well said, I appreciate the comment, and couldn’t agree more.
      The best films are the ones with a message of truth, even if it arises accidentally, it still matters.

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