The fact that David Nixon and Patrick Doughtie’s Letters to God is only being awarded one star is due mostly to its execution. Yes, it’s another foray into the sometimes-lucrative world of fundamentalist moviemaking, but at base, this isn’t the issue. Instead, Letters to God’s great failing is its overall listlessness.
The film has a laundry list of problems: amateurish direction, a corny plot, insincere acting. And all of it is at the mercy of laborious plotting that leads to a destination that’s none too surprising. There’s a sheen of saccharine melodrama to push things along and the kind of overly sentimental hokiness that causes epistemological cavities. The movie—in theory—is supposed to steer those curious about Christianity closer to God. In reality—as with all such high-minded Christian films that flop around—the movie offers zilch to anyone not already of one mind with Letters to God‘s message. Who but a Christian is ever going to bother seeing this movie?—making the entire enterprise an exercise in futility. On top of it all, because of the movie’s religious leanings, no one wants to scare the horses, meaning the movie is a heaping pile of dramatic inertness.
The story revolves around a kid named Tyler (Tanner Maguire) who is suffering from brain cancer. Tyler writes quaint pen-pal letters to God every day and occasionally vomits at inopportune times. An alcoholic mailman (Jeffrey Johnson) ends up on the kid’s route, and—after his shoes are upchucked onto—begins reading the letters (most assuredly breaking all kinds of federal laws). Add in Tyler’s mother (Robyn Lively), who is suffering through a crisis of faith, and there’s the film’s setup.
Now, knowing the film’s subject matter and target audience, it’s none too difficult to see where Letters to God‘s freight-train plotting is going to end up. Because of Tyler’s letters, icy hearts are melted and faiths are restored. Interspersed with languid discussions about faith, the film wraps up with what is supposed to be an assault on the tear ducts. In the end, there’s nary a surprise or an interesting moment to be found. Judging by its weekend box-office numbers, it looks as if Letters to God’s target audience isn’t sold on it either. Rated PG for thematic material.