I was not at all surprised to see that Ben Affleck and Matt Damon were the producers of Stolen Summer, which aired on HBO. The film seems to reflect what these two gentlemen stand for. It is their first project in promoting their independent film competition called Project Greenlight.
The main characters in the film are a Catholic family living in a Chicago suburb in 1976. At the end of the school year, eight-year-old Pete O’Malley promises his nun teacher that he will do good during the summer. Pete had been told that Catholicism is the only sure path to heaven; he decides to convert a Jew to Catholicism to insure that the Jew will get to heaven.
Pete chose to hang out at the neighborhood synagogue where he met Rabbi Jacobsen (Kevin Pollak) and bombarded him with questions about the Jewish faith. He was introduced to the Rabbi’s son Danny (Mike Weinberg), an eight-year-old who is in remission from leukemia. Pete secretly chooses Danny for his project.
During the course of their friendship, Pete explains to Danny that he will only get to heaven if he becomes Catholic. He makes up a ten-point test which he calls a mini-decathlon, all parts of which Danny must pass before he is ready to be a Catholic.
The role of Pete’s father, Joe, is played by Aiden Quinn, a perfect casting. Joe is a hard-drinking Irishman who did not attend college, but became a firefighter. He has strong ideas on most every subject. He especially encourages his oldest son Patrick who has just graduated from high school to forget about going to college and to get a civil service job which will take care of him for the rest of his life, as his father has done. His long-suffering wife Margaret, played by Bonnie Hunt, disagrees with Joe’s thinking but sometimes goes along with him to keep the peace.
When the fire department is called to Rabbi Jacobsen’s house, Joe and his company respond. Joe’s efforts result in his saving Danny’s life, although the synagogue secretary is killed in the disaster. The synagogue’s charitable foundation chooses to award Patrick O’Malley a college scholarship because of Joe’s heroic exploit in saving Danny’s life. Of course, Joe sees this as a publicity stunt for the synagogue and refuses to accept the Rabbi’s offer.
Meanwhile, Pete and Danny are moving forward on the mini-decathlon, with Danny reaching the tenth test, to swim out to the buoy and back which is a difficult task for an eight-year-old.
The resolution of all of the dilemmas presented in this film is accomplished in the last fifteen minutes of the movie. Some are sad; some are life-changing.
The story brings out the need for understanding between those of different faiths, and chooses the innocence of children to teach the rest of us how this can be accomplished. Stereotypical characters are necessary to get these points across. In reality, a person’s life-long opinion cannot always change overnight.
The film probably appeals to a small cross-section of viewers, but most of us can profit from the subtle urgings toward compassion and understanding that are the sub-plot of this fine film.
Stolen Summer (2002)