Friday, April 9, 2010
Review of "Letters to God"
Ever wonder what happens to the letters children mail to Santa? Imagine the dilemma the mailman faces when a confident boy of 8 hands him letters addressed to God. This is the situation that Brady McDaniels (Jeffrey Johnston) finds himself in, when he takes over the route of a fellow letter carrier on leave. More troublesome still, his supervisor Les (Dennis Neal)suggests he keep them. He brings them with him to show them to his old Commanding Officer, now a bartender at his nightly watering hole, who suggests they belong in a church. Hesitantly Brady walks up the aisle of the local church, hoping to leave the letters there and escape unnoticed. He feels uncomfortable, suspecting that his drunkenness will not go over well. He is startled by the pastor, who, knowing the boy who sent them, suggests that Brady has been given a mission by God, and that the letters addressed from his parishioner, 8 year old Tyler(Tanner McGuire) with brain cancer were meant for him.
What could the chatty letters full of details of Tyler Doherty’s life and childish questions have to do with a life where, as he describes it, ‘everything I touch turns to dust”? After he was caught driving drunk with his son in the car, Brady lost custody of him to his ex-wife. He misses his son, yet knows that, as a drunk, he is a bad example to him. His life is a lonely one, and it isn’t long before Tyler's letters reach Brady, he is drawn into by the loving attitude of the family and finds himself involved in their lives.
Maddy Doherty (Robyn Lively) is at the end of her rope. Her husband’s sudden death last year, left her a single mom of two growing boys. On the night she prepares to return to her nursing job at the hospital, she burns the meatloaf. Only the calm reassurance of her mother Olivia (Maree Cheatham) enables Maddie to keep it together as she hugs Tyler goodbye and leaves for work. Tyler is the light of her life, and though his doctor has warned her not to get her hopes up, she can’t help hoping that his cancer will be cured. What she can’t cure is her teenage son Ben’s negative attitude towards his family. He feels that his mother has forgotten him in her focus on his sick brother. He lost his faith in God, since the tragic loss of his father Patrick last year, and Ben (Michael Bolten)sullenly hides in his room, playing his guitar, and pushing everyone away.
"Letters to God" is not a typical sick child story. Missing the self absorption, and the scientists rushing to find a cure, we are left with an eight year old boy whose contagious hope buoys up everyone he meets. Tyler sits out on a porch on the roof of the house at night talking to God in his letters. “I miss Mom’s laugh”, “can you see the stars from there, God? My father told me you made them”. Tyler isn’t afraid of going to heaven, he tells God, “I already know two people there” and he isn’t afraid of sharing the reason for his hope: Tyler is best friends with God.
“Letters to God” is based on a true story written by Patrick Doughtie, the father of a little boy who died of cancer. His letters had a powerful effect on those who read them, inspiring them to write their own letters to God. Anyone who has had a loved one die the slowly painful death from cancer knows the importance of a relationship with God in a crisis. Yet Tyler ’s faith isn’t the foxhole faith of a dying boy, it’s the easy friendship of a life long walk in the company of Jesus, molded in His image. Tyler doesn’t beg to live longer, he asks for faith for those he loves, and someone to care for his lonely mother. When Tyler's friend Sam's Grandpa, the erasible Cornelius Pennyfield(Ralph Waite) tells him that he has been handed the role of his life, to be a warrior for God, Tyler takes on the challenge with gusto. His courageous example inspires his friend Samantha (Bailee Madison)who ferociously defence of him at school, lands both of them in the principal's office, to look into the hearts of those who are cruel and offer forgiveness. Tyler is an inspiration to his classmates, his brother Ben who composes a song on his guitar for him, and his mother who finds strength in his example. Soon, the influence of one little boy's faith inspires a movement of outreach and faith. "Letters to God" is a moving tribute to a life well lived and a mission unaccomplished.
A compelling performance by Tanner McGuire as Tyler is the hub of this emotional drama, compliments the theatrical magic of Ralph Waite. Mr Waite lost a child to cancer 30 years ago and for this reason felt inspired to be part of this moving tribute. Jeffrey Johnston is believable as Brady McDaniels, renegade turned father, and the film, though slow in places, finishes with a powerful impact, as real life testimonies to the real Tyler are shown during the credits.
This moving film will become a standard in many a family DVD collection.
No nudity or profanity, brief violence related to drunkeness, and a mature theme have earned this film a PG rating. Highly recommended for children Tyler's age(8) and up.