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Letters to God
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this sweet, tear-jerking drama deals with a dying boy who considers it his personal mission to spread his Christian beliefs to family, friends, and even strangers like his mail carrier. As with most faith-based films, families that aren't Christians may feel uncomfortable with the overt Evangelism highlighted in the movie, but if you don't mind a religiously- themed plot, then it's not a concern. What may be of concern is the fact that the child protagonist is dying and eventually passes away. But because of his strong faith in God and his afterlife in heaven, he is not afraid to die, and his death is portrayed gently and lovingly. There is no profanity, sexuality, or product placements, but there is some mention of alcoholism (specifically drinking and driving), the affects of divorce on a single parent, and a couple of brief scenes in which adults get quite upset and yell and/or trash their belongings. Overall, the message is to find faith even in the face of personal tragedy.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Tyler Doherty (Tanner Maguire) is a sweet and loving eight-year-old boy. He's also dying of cancer. Tyler decides to write LETTERS TO GOD which he places in his mailbox on a regular basis. The letters are picked up by their new postman, Brady (Jeffrey Johnson), who's struggling with alcoholism, divorce, and an ugly custody dispute. Confused by what to do with the letters -- but unwilling to just throw them away -- Brady contacts a local minister and begins to get to know Tyler, his loving mother Maddy (Robin Lively), teenage brother (Michael Christopher Bolten), and the other families along his daily route. As the troubled Brady deepens his friendship with the Dohertys, Tyler's faith inspires him to start believing in himself, but as Brady's personal crises start to mount, and Tyler's battle with cancer seems near the end, Brady must decide once and for all what to do with Tyler's letters.
Is it any good?
This is not a subtle movie. The actual words "What would Jesus do?" are said, completely un-ironically, on several occasions. There is no doubt that this is a Christian movie with an evangelical message, and that in and of itself is not a problem. The problem is that the film (not the message) seems more like an expensive, well-acted Sunday School video to be shown to youth groups rather than a movie even non-Christians (who are, one would assume, the target audience) would enjoy. Even Fireproof went beyond its faith-based message to generally champion all marriages and remind couples that they need to work on their marriages to strengthen them. Letters to God, on the other hand, provides an almost saintly, dying protagonist who is so earnest, so devout in the face of death that it's touching but not exactly relatable. For that matter, not all non-believers are newly divorced drunks hitting bottom.
In some ways, this movie is surprisingly better than expected -- the adult actors are quite good (Lively and Johnson especially). But it's the sick-child plot that's just too upsetting (and daresay manipulative) and "Hallmark special" sentimental to fully invest in throughout the film. Of course, just because you know he's going to die doesn't mean you won't get weepy when it actually happens, but you may want to punch the director in the face for turning a dying boy into an instrument for evangelizing. Like To Save a Life, it's just too much, too bogged down by the message to deliver as a film. For a much more nuanced message film, check out Alejandro Gomez Monteverde's Bella.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's messages about facing death and personal tragedy. How does Tyler's optimism and personal faith help him through the last months of his life? How does his faith affect those around him?
How are the consequences of Brady's drinking handled? How does his alcohol abuse take a toll on his life, and how does he change because of his belief in God?
- Why does Tyler's mother get upset at the mention of God? Why does she have trouble with the idea of faith? What changes her heart?
Do you think this movie is worth seeing if you're not a Christian? Why or why not?