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MOVIE REVIEW

'Letters to God' is preachy, not inspirational

Based on a true story about a boy with brain cancer, the film, co-written and co-directed by the boy's father, has little tension or filmmaking flair.

April 12, 2010|By Mark Olsen
  • The film is meant to convey a message of spiritual faith, hope and inspiration, but precious little dramatic tension or filmmaking flare, render it more laborious than labor of love.
The film is meant to convey a message of spiritual faith, hope and inspiration,… (Vivendi )

It is tough to write about "Letters to God" without feeling like you're kicking a kitten. Based on a true story about a boy with brain cancer -- co-written and co-directed by the boy's father, Patrick Doughtie -- the film is meant to convey a message of spiritual faith, hope and inspiration. Directed by David Nixon, who also made the successful faith-based film " Fireproof," the film has sincerity to spare but precious little dramatic tension or filmmaking flare, rendering it more laborious than labor of love.

Eight-year-old Tyler (Tanner Maguire) has been fighting his brain cancer in part by writing a series of letters that he addresses to God and drops in the mail. When new mailman Brady McDaniels (Jeffrey S.S. Johnson), dealing with his own shattered life, begins picking up the letters, he initially doesn't know what to do with them. McDaniels seeks advice from his supervisor, and later a minister, and eventually the letters become instructional tools, providing motivational insights to anyone who reads them. Even as Tyler's health declines, his message begins to gain momentum.

Where the faith-based films of Tyler Perry at least find time for hokey humor and even a touch of romance amid their show of devotion, "Letters to God" stays on-message all the time. When a boy sings a song at a talent show, there is a montage of moments from earlier in the film, an awkward recap in case there is anything one might have missed.

At one point young Tyler refers to his letters as "like texting your best friend," and that's about as contemporary as the film gets. Houses actually have white picket fences. There seems to be only one church of one denomination in the entire town. When it is implied that the mailman is troubled because he drinks (not the other way around), the emotional or psychological impact of his being an Iraq war veteran is left unexamined.

The team behind "Letters" seems to want the film to function as something more than "just a movie" -- it's a clarion call for hope and faith and specific charitable causes.

Yet it would have been nice if the makers had focused more on the film as simply that: a film, an object of art, entertainment and communication for people outside their own circle.

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