Letters to God Review

What do you get when you combine a young boy with cancer, religion and director David Nixon? You get the snooze-fest entitled Letters to God. Tanner Mcguire stars in this movie as Tyler Doherty, a young boy fighting a brain tumor, who manages to inspire his community and help an alcoholic mailman (Jeffrey Johnson) find God through the letters he mails each day. The movie is based off of the real life Tyler, late son of co-director/writer Patrick Doughtie, but most of the events and characters in the movie are fictionalized.

What is most amazing about Letters To God is simply the fact that one movie can be so boring. It's slow, extremely predictable, and well...slow. It's clearly meant to incite deep emotions, however, the dialogue in this film was so unpersuasive, that it was hard to take the story seriously. Most critics would probably blame the aggressive Christian overtones in this flick, but I simply blame a bad script.

Given the track record of director David Nixon, I suspect he added the religious element in order to aim for the jugular of the viewer, but instead he landed on the knee-cap. The idea of a young boy's letters to God inspiring a suffering man is a compelling angle, but the execution fails miserably. To begin with, the script wastes the efforts of a fine cast who were forced to represent one dimensional characters. Especially great is Tanner McGuire, who seems to have a good grasp of the role of Tyler; however, the lack of emotional range provided for him forced him into an unrealistic cocoon of a noble young boy always suffering and never scared. The sad fact is that a character without any faults or flaws is just too far-fetched to be emotionally identifiable. It's unfortunate that his character suffers a great deal, but it's also unfortunate that Letters to God could not capture the true essence of what it means to face mortality at such a young age and to find solace in a religion that helps him cope with it.

The first of many obvious problems with this film becomes apparent in the opening sequence. As a mailman walks through his route delivering mail, the residents are just so absurdly chipper, that it sets the tone for the unrealistic nature of this film. On what planet are people so happy to get a handful of bills? It's like watching a community of Stepford wives. To add to their fairytale beatitudes, the residents of this unnamed town seem to all be preachers in training. There's nothing wrong with establishing spirituality in a film, especially since the nature of main character Tyler and his family are rooted in Christianity, but in the hands of David Nixon, the “will” of God is the proverbial healthy horse that is taken and beaten repeatedly into a lifeless lump. At many points, the main plot line takes a back seat to over-zealous religious tones that makes the movie seems more like a public service announcement for Christ than the inspirational theme it's gunning for.

To the credit of Letters to God, I did start praying during this film. I was praying for it to end. There are so many scenes that this movie could have done without. To make matters worse, it's altogether too easy to guess the coming events. It's like watching a movie I had seen hundreds of times before. There is nothing original or insightful about Letters to God. It is pretty clear that once again, Nixon is utilizing the blunt object and the lifeless horse.

There are some unintentionally entertaining moments in this film. For starters, Brady (Jeffrey Johnson) could not be a more unconvincing drunk if he tried. He's just too nice of a guy. To see him stumbling into his neatly-staged "messy" apartment, passing out on a bottle of Jack in his recliner, is just too cute. There's no way I was going to buy into the idea that he was the town "bad boy." It does a great job on the flashbacks into his "troubles," but that really doesn't affect my perception of his character.

It's also uncomfortably comical to watch the interactions between the children of Letters to God. It's way too obvious that this script was written by someone who had little interaction with children. At one point, when Tyler questions how to stop the kids at school from teasing him, his answer is, "I'd do what Jesus would do!" Not to mention, in another scene, the children are all too excited to run outside for prayer, instead of cavorting in the playground like normal kids. It's simply too implausible to believe that children could act like perfect little believers all the time.

It's clear that Letters to God is meant to be a family film, but that doesn't excuse the injustices throughout this film. It's too bland and unrealistic to handle the type of message entrusted to it. Unless you're looking for a movie to share with your born-again grandmother, I'd suggest skipping this one.

DVD Bonus Features

Letters to God feature commentary with the director David Nixon, and co-writer/director Patrick Doughtie, who happens to be the father of the real life Tyler Doherty. There is also a behind the scenes featurette of the making of Letters to God, and a theatrical trailer for the movie.

"Letters to God" is on sale August 10, 2010 and is rated PG. Children & Family, Christian. Directed by David Nixon. Written by Patrick Doughtie. Starring Jeffrey Johnson, Robyn Lively, Tanner McGuire.

Simone Grant


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