“I have to admit, after watching the series religiously, I couldn’t wait to see how awful Stolen Summer had turned out. I’d already come up with some witty bons mots to incorporate into the scathing review I planned to write. The only problem is, Stolen Summer isn’t all that bad…”
Like any lottery winner, screenwriter Pete Jones most likely never considered the downside to his prize when he entered his script for Stolen Summer into Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s Project Greenlight competition. He probably only envisioned the glamour of being handed a million dollar check with which to make his film, only imagined the luxury of being guaranteed distribution by contest co-sponsor Miramax Films. But we know better. We’ve seen all the news stories about instant jackpot winners who are living in trailers a year after winning – and squandering – their fortunes. We know good fortune always comes at a price.
So it was with Project Greenlight. As part of his prize deal, intrusive video cameras invaded his set, turning footage of Jones’ entire shoot – every last screwup – into riveting reality TV. Throughout, Jones put the “green” in “greenlight” by making one terrible choice after another. I have to admit, after watching the series religiously, I couldn’t wait to see how awful Stolen Summer had turned out. I’d even come up with some witty bons mots to incorporate into the scathing review I planned to write. The only problem is, the movie isn’t all that bad. In fact, aside from a few minor problems, it’s actually pretty darn good.
Stolen Summer is a sweet story set in 1976 Chicago about a boy, Pete (Adi Stein), on a quest to save his eternal soul by converting his Jewish friend, Danny (Mike Weinberg), to Catholicism. Without over-sentimentalizing, director Jones contrasts Danny’s middle-class Jewish family with Pete’s working-class Irish Catholic one, nimbly weaving a poignant look at religion, prejudice and friendship with clever subplots that develop as a result of the boys’ camaraderie.
The film’s only real weakness is the boys themselves. Plucked from the world of advertising, they frequently rely on cute looks rather than acting ability to get through scenes. The rest of the cast performs splendidly, however, particularly Bonnie Hunt as Pete’s harried but insightful mom and Aiden Quinn as his volatile but loving father.
Followers of Project Greenlight will note some glaring omissions in the film, “crucial” scenes shot under grueling circumstances that somehow ended up on the cutting room floor. Looks like Jones learned at least one valuable lesson from his ordeal: some mistakes just can’t be corrected in post-production. Still, he did manage to work some true miracles; the result is a film that all but guarantees many more green lights in his filmmaking future.
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