A sick kid helps people get right with God in Letters to God, one of those movies of the Fireproof / Facing the Giants variety.
And if you haven’t heard of those movies you probably won’t be interested in this movie.
Tyler Doherty (Tanner Maguire) is an eight-year-old fighting cancer and dealing with his sadness, confusion, fear, etc. by writing regular letters to God that he mails via U.S. mail. When alcoholic Iraq vet Brady McDaniels (Jeffrey S.S. Johnson) takes over the route while the regular postman is on vacation, the letters bring up all sorts of feelings — frustration with his life, sorrow over the loss of custody of his young son — he tries to keep covered in booze. With the help of a local church, he starts to clean up and become a friend to the family — including widowed mom Maddy (Robin Lively) and teenage son Ben (Michael Bolton) — as they struggle with Tyler’s illness.
If characters’ suddenly mentioning finding “the Truth through Jesus” or giving over to “Heavenly Father and His plans” jars you out of a movie like a slam on the brakes, then this film isn’t for you. If that kind of overt Christianity and message-intensive storytelling is your cup of tea, drink up. Like the relationship drama Fireproof, which had Kirk Cameron learning to save his marriage and find Jesus, Letters to God is a movie for a very specific audience and isn’t likely to resonate with people who aren’t part of it.
So, if you are the intended audience, is Letters to God a good movie? Well, let’s compare it to something more my speed — action movies, let’s say. Every time you put out one of those big blockbuster-contender action movies, you have a requirement to bring something more to the table. Maybe you have fun performances and snarky dialogue that noses you past the last explosion-fest. Maybe you have more explosions. Maybe you put it all in 3D. Whatever you do, you can’t do it next time. You’ve got to bring another explosion, a crazier stunt, a more clever story — generally, add to what’s come before.
The Christian-themed movies I’ve seen so far are still blowing up the same car. You’d expect that as these movies progress, you’d get improvement in story, performance and dialogue. These movies are relatively inexpensive to make, so while they aren’t giving Avatar a run for its money, movies like Fireproof are actually turning a very nice profit. Now it’s time to give something back — juice up the dialogue (and I don’t mean with swearing or pop culture references; I mean with extra rewrites and attention paid to have people say things that sound like normal human dialogue) and invest in getting actors who can deliver more than just sermons. Letters to God’s biggest problem isn’t that it won’t be getting some film critic to show up to choir practice but that it has a very hokey early-sitcom feel. The actors — particularly the children — are laugh-track-ready and don’t hit even the realistic kid-performance you get in movies like Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
Save your angry letters; I’m not saying something disparaging about putting religion in movies — I think it can be just as valid a point from which to start a story as the kind of romantic-wish-fulfillment that drives your average chick flick. I’m just saying that now that an audience has been established for these films, the filmmakers need to start giving their customers a better product. C-
Rated PG for thematic material. Directed by David Nixon and Patrick Doughtie and written by Doughtie, Art D’Alessandro, Sandra Thrift and Cullen Douglas, Letters to God is an hour and 54 minutes long and distributed in wide release by Vivendi Entertainment.