Tyler is a typical tree-climbing, soccer-playing 8-year-old … who's been pretty sick.
After brain surgery and radiation treatments for the rare form of cancer he suffers from, it appears that things might be getting better. He's even starting back to school. But a thing like this can tumble a boy's whole world. And he's got a lot of questions.
What's he supposed to do about this bald head?
Will the kids at school accept him or think he's a freak?
Will he ever get back on the soccer field?
Is there anything that will help take that sadness out of his mom's eyes?
Only one course of action makes sense to the faith-filled Ty. He needs to get some answers, and maybe a little help. So the ever-smiling youngster starts writing down his thoughts, fears and requests. Then he addresses them to God … and pops them in the mailbox.
Enter substitute mailman Brady McDaniels. Very unhappy with his lot in life, Brady's let his drinking problem destroy everything of value in it. He drinks himself to sleep and barely makes it through the day.
Then he starts picking up Ty's letters with the name GOD scrawled across the front. His first thought is, "Why me?!" Figuring out what to do with these silly things is just one more headache. It doesn't seem right to just toss them in the trash. And his boss at the post office is no help whatsoever. After slugging back a few Jack Daniel's one night, Brady gets a brainstorm: He'll drop the letters off in a pew at the local church and let the "Big Man" Himself deal with 'em.
Of course, God's not going to let Brady off the hook that easily. A pastor at the church spots the disheveled postman and suggests that the Lord may have put those letters in Brady's hands for a reason. So after a quick prayer with the pastor, Brady finds himself stumbling back into the street with the letters in his pocket and a less-than-clear "mission from God" on his To Do list.
Where to start. If he's ever going to find his way clear of this stuff, Brady figures he's going to have to get to know this kid named Tyler. And in doing that, everything starts to change for both Brady and Ty.
In spite of his illness, Tyler's faith and desire to share God's love impacts not only Brady but also quite a large number of people in the community. In tagging along on his journey, faith and following through on God's call stays at the core of this film.
Ty's dad had passed away just years before. And Brady eventually becomes something of a father figure for the young boy. The relationship not only helps boost Tyler's spirits, it literally turns Brady's life around. The struggling man is motivated to reconnect with his own son. And for the first time in his life Brady begins truly seeking God's help.
Tyler's best friend, a neighbor girl nicknamed Sam, is a constant support to her sick pal. She's the first to stand up for him and is even ready to slug a bully if that's what it takes. (Tyler tells her not to.) When Ty is confined to his room to get more rest, Sam climbs in his window to be there for him (comically hiding from his mom when she comes in to check).
Grandparents are a solid support for the kids, too. When Tyler's brother, Ben, gets upset about his sibling's cancer, Grandma pulls Ben aside for a pep talk and prayer. And one day when Tyler is feeling a bit glum about being teased over his hairless condition, Sam takes him to see her grandfather. The old gent play-acts the role of a Russian Count while playfully encouraging Tyler to grab onto the idea that he's been chosen to be a "warrior for God." He even helps out with the hair situation by pasting some crepe paper eyebrows on Tyler to help him loosen up a bit.
Back to Ben for a bit: He's mad that Tyler's illness has made everything in their family revolve around cancer. And he spits out, "I just hate him!" Tyler overhears and is hurt, naturally. And Ben apologizes. Both grow through the situation, as does Maddy, their mom. Frustrated and at her wit's end, she cries out at one point, "I don't agree with God's will. I don't think God cares about any of this." But she learns that He does.
Brady eventually decides to hand deliver all of Tyler's letters to the people Tyler was praying for in them. The recipients are all greatly moved by what they read and, in some cases, spiritually transformed. A large number of kids at Tyler's school, for example, are motivated to start writing letters to God themselves.
This is obviously, then, a very spiritual film. Words of faith in God's love, provision and call abound. A number of individuals lift up prayers for God's guidance. And several kids' letters do the same. A bully at school wonders in his letter if he'll be able to go to heaven like Tyler.
We see crosses and pictures of Jesus, even Christian-themed bracelets with the verse John 3:16 printed on them.
Maddy wears a low-cut top.
Sam gets angry with a teasing bully at school and pushes his face down into his plate of potatoes. A dog attacks Brady as he's delivering mail, grabbing the postman's trouser leg with his teeth.
Crude or Profane Language
One use of "h‑‑‑." Name-calling includes "jerk" and "knucklehead." Somebody says "gosh."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Brady gulps down glasses of alcohol in a bar. He drinks straight from the bottle in his bottle-strewn apartment. And he's shown inebriated on a couple of occasions—including one when he's being arrested for driving drunk with his son in the car.
His drinking isn't shown for giggles or gags, however. It's integral to promoting his path toward a better life. A bartender refuses to pour Brady another drink unless he hands over his keys.
Tyler is given an injection of medicine and, later, blood, through his chest tube.
Other Negative Elements
When first meeting Brady, Tyler throws up on the man's shoes. We see him vomit after taking his medicine.
"My hope is that the audience will leave the theater with a new perspective on prayer," says Letters to God co-director David Nixon, who is probably best known in Christian circles for his role in producing the films Facing the Giants and Fireproof. "If a little 8 year old going through cancer can write simple prayers to his best friend, God, every day, then anyone can pray to the God of the universe."
Cynics will say his film is just another TV-grade, Hallmark-style tearjerker designed to prod folks into doing more for folks who have cancer. But while some of the acting is a tad amateurish and the script does have a number of dialogue potholes, it will mean much more than that to quite a few moviegoers—both those who have been directly impacted by cancer in their families and even those who haven't.
Tanner Maguire's Tyler is endearing and sincere. And his scene with Waltons alum Ralph Waite is probably the most charming and inviting moment in the film. And besides, is it really such a bad thing for a movie to make us want to lend a hand from time to time?
But that's still not really the point. Based on a true story, Letters to God actually goes well beyond the tried-and-true tale of a sweet kid who has cancer. It does so by adding the spiritual dimension Nixon's so committed to bringing into the picture. Ty's faith is stimulating. His letter writing inspiring. His impact on those around him incalculable.