Pete, an eight-year-old Catholic boy growing up in the suburbs of Chicago in the mid-1970s, attends Catholic school, where as classes let out for the summer, he’s admonished by a nun to follow the path of the Lord, and not that of the Devil. Perhaps taking this message a bit too seriously, Pete decides it’s his goal for the summer to help someone get into heaven; having been told that Catholicism is the only sure path to the kingdom of the Lord, Pete decides to convert a Jew to Catholicism in order to improve their standing in the afterlife. Hoping to find a likely candidate, Pete begins visiting a nearby synagogue, where he gets to know Rabbi Jacobson, who responds to Pete’s barrage of questions with good humor. Pete also makes friends with the Rabbi’s son, Danny, who is about the same age; when he learns that Danny is seriously ill, he decides Danny would be an excellent choice for conversion. When the priest at Pete’s church informs Pete that all will be tested before they pass the Pearly Gates, he sets up a mini-decathlon and puts Danny in training as he attempts to reshape his spiritual thinking. Pete’s parents aren’t sure just what to make of Pete’s new summer project, and as they become acquainted with Rabbi Jacobson, they share their perspectives on the unexpected trials of parenting.
Rated PG for thematic elements and language.
Runtime: 91 minutes
Company: All Nighter Inc.
FAITH REVIEW OF FILM
by Frank Cunningham
|YEAR||2002 Sundance Film Festival, Limited USA Release, Released in 8 countries over the period 2002-2005
|PETE JONES, with this film, was the winner of Ben Affleck’s and Matt Damon’s reality show on movie making called Project Greenlight. Jones wrote and directed this movie, his first commercial release. His credits since include having written 2 other movies, one of which is currently in production, and having directed one other.
|ORIGINAL RELEASE FORM / VENUE||Originally released as an entry in the Sundance Film Festival, a limited US release to movie theatres followed.
|CURRENTLY AVAILABLE FORMATS||Available in DVD, VHS and Online Video Streaming/Download|
Pete O’Malley – 8 year old rising 3rd grader
Joe O’Malley – his father and local fireman
Margaret O’Malley – his mother
Rabbi Jacobsen – local Rabbi
Danny Jacobsen – Rabbi’s 7 year old son; friend and “project” of Pete
Father Kelly – Priest of the O’Malley’s Catholic Church
Patrick O’Malley – Brother of Pete and rising college freshman
Adiel (aka Adi) Stein as Pete O’Malley, the main character
Aidan Quinn as Joe O’Malley, his insular, disapproving “blue collar” father
Bonnie Hunt as Martgaret O’Malley, the supportive stay-at-home mom
Kevin Pollak as Rabbi Jacobsen, a genial and very tolerant Rabbi
Brian Dennehy as Father Kelly
Eddie Kaye Thomas as Patrick O’Malley
Over shadowing the film language elements, this is a film driven by the story, character and perspective of Pete O’Malley, an 8 year old Irish Catholic boy. Pete fears that he is headed to Hell unless he can do a good deed. From this 8 year old’s perspective, his formative ideals and notions – both right and wrong – are believable to the viewer because they are born within the realm of his innocence.
Viewers follow the divine mission of Pete O’Malley , an Irish-Catholic 8-year-old in Chicago, who aims to get his terminally ill Jewish friend into heaven through religious conversion and thereby saving his own soul, he thinks. The task is formidable given that it and Pete are outside the rules of the Catholic Church and Jewish communities and is compounded by Pete’s “un-educated” and “blue-collar” father who is intolerant of Pete’s socializing and mixing faiths. At the same time, the ethnic separations collapse amid the trauma of a fire enveloping the Rabbi’s home, killing his secretary while Joe O’Malley, a fireman by trade, saves Danny and the trauma to all when Danny later dies from cancer.
|FILM LANGUAGE ELEMENTS||
The film was set and filmed in Chicago and captured life in community and in neighborhoods. While there is separation, it is not so great that it cannot be overcome by an 8 year old on a bicycle.
Of particular interest and notice to me was that most all shots of the Synagogue and of the Catholic Church were in empty or emptying buildings as if to say that in this emptiness “community” is not in these places but elsewhere.
|AUDIENCE / CULTURAL CONTEXT ELEMENTS||The audience may be a family setting, or groups from grade school to adult. The cultural content will impact people differently. For example, people of or from “blue collar” backgrounds will relate to Joe O’Malley. And most everyone will relate to the innocence presented in the boys Pete and Danny.
|THEOLOGY IS FOUND||Theology is obvious, straightforward, and hidden at the same time. The obvious positions of church and synagogue are straightforward. The theology contrasting these is hidden in the efforts of Pete and Danny and the impact each bring to their families and communities.
|THEOLOGICAL THEMES FOR CONVERSATION||Community: examine both the expressed and implied communities.
Ethnic segregation: attitudes, structures, community supports, how to overcome
Heaven: what’s our understanding of the path to heaven?
Can theology and tolerance exist together? How?
Is Pete a modern day Paul or Timothy in his zeal to convert Jews?
Should we try to convert Jews?
Caring: What does it mean? What barriers do we need to remove? How can we do it better?
What do the children teach us ?
Cultural diversity issues
Rituals – Danny’s cross motion at dinner as a “speed dial to God.”
|SUGGESTED TYPE OF CONVERSATION||Watch the film together and break up into smaller groups for discussion questions. This is a great film to being together a diverse audience.
|RECOMMENDED WAYS TO VIEW AND ENGAGE THE FILM||Watch the film together. Discuss after the film.
Before starting the film, prompt the group to these questions:
1) What is Pete’s objective?
2) What barriers does Pete encounter?
3) What does Pete really accomplish?
4) Whose theology do you agree with? Why?
|CONCLUDING OR SUMMARY REMARKS||Rated PG.|