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“Stolen Summer”

Much is already known about “Stolen Summer.” Originally a screenplay written by Peter Jones, “Summer” won a contest sponsored by Miramax and actors/screenwriters Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Once the screenplay was chosen, the writer and soon-to-be director Jones began work on his film.

His filmmaking process became the subject of a documentary series on HBO called “Project Greenlight.” Before anyone had screened the film in a dark theater, “Stolen Summer” already had quite a pedigree.

What truly distinguishes this small film, though, is not how it was made, but that it chooses to wrestle with real issues of faith. In a time when there needs to be more dialogue between people of diverse faith communities, “Stolen Summer” actually probes some of the questions which oftentimes build barriers between various faith traditions.

“Where is God in the midst of a tragedy?” “Who has the true way to heaven?” “What are the characteristics that make one righteous?” Films at the multiplex rarely ask these questions, but “Summer” does.

Some will be upset by various issues in”Summer.” It does embrace a “faith through works theology,” at least for a while. However, this is handled in such a charming way that few will be too upset by it. Toward the end there are elements of universalism, which may have more conservative Christians yelling at the screen.

But before anyone condemns “Summer,” consider the line from the film when Rabbi Jacobson is talking with his secretary. He says, “Whenever you ask people to think, they start complaining.” How true that is for Christians who are sure they have all the answers. For those who are still struggling and seeking to understand God more fully every day, “Summer” will offer much inspiration, and the opportunity for great post-viewing conversations.

As for the film itself, it is truly a gem. “Summer” is a rare film, not just for the issues raised, but also for the performances, especially from the young cast members. Adi Stein and Mike Weinberg embody the innocence and mischief vital for these roles. Aidan Quinn and Bonnie Hunt are authentic as the parents of a large Catholic brood.

The scene where Hunt’s Margaret is attempting to get her seven or eight children to church on time should ring true to all parents who have lived through those Sunday mornings. Kevin Pollak and Brian Dennehy bring dignity and sincerity to their roles as faith leaders. Those who claim that films these days never show people of faith in respectful ways need to see “Summer.”  

“Summer” is not a perfect film. The plot is predictable at some points. A few moments don’t ring as true as the rest of the film. But ultimately, this film is satisfying not because of the story it tells, but because of the issues raised by the characters, as well as some great dialogue. Like many great films, the story is secondary to what the film is really about.  

“Stolen Summer” is a small film. While “Star Wars” and “Spider-Man” are both playing in dozens of cinemas in the Atlanta area, “Summer” is playing in only one. It may not even make it to smaller venues.

But it is a film worth seeing. If unavailable now, it will soon make it to the local video store. For those who like to think about faith issues—and not complain when they are made to think—”Stolen Summer”is a film worth seeking out.

Roger Thomas is pastor of NortheastBaptistChurch in Atlanta.

MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements and language

Director: Peter Jones

Cast: Joe O’Malley: Aidan Quinn; Margaret O’Malley: Bonnie Hunt; Pete O’Malley: Adi Stein; Rabbi Jacobson: Kevin Pollak; Danny Jacobson: Mike Weinberg; Father Kelly: Brian Dennehy; Patrick O’Malley: Eddie Kay Thomas.