What do you do when the doctors give you a diagnosis that's typically fatal? How do you live out your days? What do you do with your questions about God, about healing, about eternity? If you're the inspiration for Letters to God, you sit down and write Him and inspire others to do the same.
A heartfelt tale of inspiration, hope and redemption, Letters to God is the story of what happens when one boy’s walk of faith crosses paths with one man’s search for meaning. The resulting transformational journey touches the lives of everyone around them.
Tyler Doherty (Tanner Maguire) is an extraordinary eight-year-old boy. Surrounded by a loving family and community, and armed with the courage of his faith, he faces his daily battle against cancer with bravery and grace. To Tyler, God is a friend, a teacher and the ultimate pen pal. Tyler’s prayers take the form of letters, which he composes and mails on a daily basis.
The letters find their way into the hands of Brady McDaniels (Jeffrey S.S. Johnson), a beleaguered postman standing at a crossroads in his life. At first, he is confused and conflicted over what to do with the letters. But the decision he ultimately makes becomes a testament to the quiet power of one boy’s shining spirit and unshakeable faith.
Strong Writing and Characters
Letters to God is based on a true story, and that alone is worth the price of admission. Out of necessity, real life must be condensed into less than 2 hours, so the challenge for the filmmaker is choosing the right scenes and life moments to tell a complex story. The writing for this film is definitely one of its strong points. Heart-rending moments are balanced against comedic scenes that provide relief from what could be a draining storyline.
The strongest interactions are between Brady, the postman, and Tyler. As we watch their friendship grow, we see the influence of Tyler on this hapless soul and cheer him along on his journey. It's a great example of the effectiveness of the gospel when shared through friendship. Jeffrey S.S. Johnson's (Brady) character arc is completely believable, and he delivers the best performance of the cast.
Tanner Maguire (Midnight Clear, Saving Sarah Cain) as Tyler alternates between some really believable moments and others that feel contrived. His scenes with pal Sam (Bailee Madison from Saving Sarah Cain, Bridge to Terabithia) are fun, but during some of their time together their action is hesitant and awkward, which also happens to other cast members.
Other casting standouts are Robyn Lively as Tyler's mom and Michael Bolten as Tyler's brother Ben. One off note in the film is trying to convince us that Bolten is singing "You Give Me Hope," when it's really sung by the front man of Between the Trees. Trying to pass off an iconic voice like that doesn't work too well (or maybe I'm more sensitive to it because of my musical background).
First-time feature director David Nixon (Fireproof, Facing the Giants) delivers a strong film aside from the inconsistencies in his actors' delivery. He varies the tempo and emotional tugging in a nice rhythm that stops short of feeling like a roller coaster ride. Cinematographer Bob Scott delivered a visually pleasing film with some shots that are quite beautiful.
One jarring note was the vignettes of cancer patients at the end. All of the testimonies were of people who are in remission or completely healed, which seemed to infer that writing letters to God and expressing your anger and sadness about cancer means you'll be healed. I'm sure that's not what was meant, but the choice to exclude any testimonies from families who suffered a loss lessened the overall impact of the film.
Good story combined with a good cast and good direction all come together to deliver a film that is a crowd pleaser. When I saw this film, the theater was packed, which is a great way to judge audience response. People laughed, cried, and cheered throughout the film, giving it a standing ovation at the end. The strength of this film is it's emotional storyline that encourages viewers to rise above challenging circumstances and to keep faith in God, no matter what.
Letters to God is rated PG for thematic material.
Courtesy of a national publicist, Angela attended a promotional screening of Letters to God.
As Executive Editor of ChristianCinema.com, Angela writes and edits articles and movie reviews, interviews filmmakers, and searches for new films to add to the ChristianCinema.com catalog. A primary focus is interviewing today's filmmakers to get to know the person behind the camera and gain an inside look at the process of making movies. Angela also writes the ChristianMovieNews blog, an ongoing dialogue about faith and film.