Rated PG for thematic material, 110 minutes
Likable faith-based weepie "Letters to God" lacks power
It's hard not to like a movie like "Letters to God." It's family-friendly, based on a true story, and involves children and illness, a recipe for a few tears and heart-tugs. "Letters to God" has an engaging cast, some inspiring messages and some touching moments, but the second-rate production and uneven script hurt the film, particularly when you find out the most interesting part of the story was left out of the movie altogether.
Eight-year old Tyler Doherty (Tanner Maguire) is fighting for his life with a rare form of brain cancer. Having already tragically lost his dad, Tyler's family is struggling to help him in his fight with cancer with bravery and grace. His mother (Robyn Lively) is trying to hold down a job and keep the family together; his older brother Ben (Michael Bolten) feels left out, his grandma (Maree Cheathem) is there to lend support while his best friend Sam (Bailee Madison) and her grandpa (Ralph Waite) attempt to lift his spirits. He writes letters to God each day asking for help giving them to his new postman named Brady (Jeffrey Johnson), who has his own problems, but becomes attached to Tyler and quickly sees how the boy's faith in his letters is changing those around him.
"Letters to God" is a bland drama that lacks momentum to be a truly great movie, in spite of some decent messages and a handful of touching moments. The film is produced by the same folks who released the similarily faith-based film "Facing the Giants" and the hit "Fireproof," and this film is more polished and better acted, in large part due to the cast of professional actors; young actors Maguire and Madison (seen in the recent film "Brothers") are an engaging pair who entertainingly pepper the film with their warm chemistry. It's also nice seeing the easily recognizable Waite as the dad from TV's "The Waltons."
But the biggest problem with "Letters to God" is the uneven script that lacks resonance and impact. Loosely based on the true story of the late Tyler Doughtie and co-written by his father Pat, who also wrote the novel, it fictionalizes a good portion of Tyler's story and leaves out the most interesting part of the story, in which a woman named Julie Buchanan stole money from his cancer fund. Instead, it creates a banal subplot involving a boozy mailman that has little to do with the story or Tyler's illness.
By the time "Letters to God" gets to its unremarkable but teary ending, you should have plenty of tissues on hand, though the best part of the film is over the credits, as it tells some uplifting real-life cancer survivor stories inspired by Tyler's story (the real-life Tyler is also pictured). "Letters to God" tries too hard at times and some of the faith-based messages seem awkwardly handled, but it's certainly an improvement over other movies in the genre. "Letters to God" is a story that's worthy to be told, too bad the movie version isn't as worthy.