Directed by Pete Jones
USA, 2002 - 92 MINUTES
Starring: Aidan Quinn, Kevin Pollack, Brian Dennehy, Bonnie
Lesson In Bad Filmmaking
After all the hype of HBO's series, Project Greenlight,
and the 2.5 million dollars thrown at this first timer vehicle,
I was greatly disappointed. This film was a lesson in what
NOT to do when making a film - from the writing to the acting
to the camera work, it was, sadly, a waste of time.
The premise could have been interesting - a Catholic boy
decides he wants to avoid hell by helping Jews get into
heaven. His quest begins with lemonade and ends with helping
a dying Jewish boy complete a decathalon of sorts. Thrown
in is an aggravated mother, an drinking and aggravated father,
an aggravated and sad rabbi, a dead secretary, a lifeguard
who wants to be a doctor and a couple of funerals. Basically,
everyone is aggravated in the film. Can you guess how the
audience felt after 20 minutes?
The writing is weak - full of clichés and overstated
ideas. The dialogue could have easily cut in half without
losing any of the story. The constant chatter of the characters
was not akin to the tradition of Mamet and Allen but closer
to nervous rambling. The key here is there was no silence
- no place to reflect, take a beat, pause and think on what
is meant by the dialogue. For a film about religion and
God, it lacked sincerity and emotional connection as well
as a spirituality one would expect from a film on this topic.
I had expected the wonder, awe and terror of what it is
like for a child to comprehend and wrestle with the concept
of death and God. I had expected the magic of seeing through
a child's eyes, taking on the larger idea of a quest. Great
children's films do this wonderfully - the fable and wonder
of "Matilda", the emotion and adventure of "ET",
the terror of "Sixth Sense", and the joy and bonding
of "Stand By Me". "Stolen Summer" lacked
magic or even a child's perspective. Pete Jones and crew
missed many opportunities to connect the world of a child's
mind and heart with what was going on in the story.
There were tangents that did not add to the story but rather
distracted the viewer. The scenes with the son as lifeguard
did not illustrate anything but a bigoted father figure,
which had been well established early on. Several moments
with Brian Dennehy as the priest seemed rushed and distracted.
Showing the secretary before she dies didn't need to happen.
Bonnie Hunt hitting her son several times in the opening
sequence was unbelievable and not needed. The problem with
this film is too much indicating and overstating what is
going on - there is no discovery for the viewer, no chance
to be surprised, because everything is explained in a long-winded
manner. Predictable and tedious, the film lacks irony or
The acting by the two boys, Adi Stein and Mike Weinberg,
was stilted, emotionless and full of earnest overacting.
The delivery reminded me of a long Tide commercial, where
each line is delivered with spunk and perkiness. Their dialogue,
especially Adi Stein's, was way too long to be believable
and over-simplified. The intelligence and emotion that could
have filled the screen was completely absent. It was no
fun watching two boys who seemingly had no emotional connection
to each other wander around Chicago aimlessly seeking something
neither really wanted. Where was the fun, the childlike
exploration of their world, the extremes of emotion that
children have when they truly desire something? The quest
seemed more like a list of chores than a spiritual journey.
The adults fare a little better, but the writing again
hinders them. I truly believed Aiden Quinn wanted to get
laid but that was about it. Again, the aggravation of the
adults permeated every scene. Bickering became yelling and
shoving at one point, but the emotion behind it was lacking.
There is too much annoyance in the adults to enjoy watching
them for too long.
The camera work was shaky and underlit at times. I could
not believe that Pete Biagi, the Director of Photography,
didn't use a tripod more often. The jittering of the camera
didn't even seem to be a stylistic choice, since it wasn't
consistent - it ranged from all-out hand held to clumsy
steadycam shots, or so it seemed. The scenes were underlit,
resulting in drab and colorless footage. Above all, film
is a visual medium and this film lacked anything visually
interesting to look at. The shots were limited and centered
on medium shots of the actors. There was nothing beautiful
to highlight the spiritual quest or supposed emotion in
The music sounded generic - a licensed music track mixing
standard emotional cues with low intensity or interest.
The sets were very 1970's but dark and uninteresting. The
outdoor locations could have been shot better, considering
the sunsets and beach scenes, but the perspective was predictable
and boring - the camera never seemed to view the world from
a child's eyes at all.
The film went on too long and should have ended at least
ten minutes before the final scene. "Stolen Summer"
rambled on, unsure of how it should end, continuing pointlessly.
All the situations ended neatly but nothing seemed to have
been discovered or resolved. In total, it reminded me of
a dumbed down episode of "Seventh Heaven", if
that is even possible.
The film had potential that it never came close to achieving.
I had hoped Pete Jones would have made a film that may not
have been perfect but reflected a good, solid try. Instead,
his tepid approach to filmmaking disappoints on every level.
"Stolen Summer" seems a wasteful hype-driven vehicle
for HBO and Miramax, banking not on good filmmaking but
on the "indie" genre and hopeful filmmakers. Remarkably,
it seems they chose the safest script, from a group of finalist
that lacked diversity or daring. Perhaps next time around,
Miramax and HBO will look for a daring departure rather
than a roundtrip ticket to dullsville.
By Melissa Ulto
Copyright multo.com 2002