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The Independent Critic

Aley Underwood, Pam Eichner, Bernie Diamond, Kylee Thurman, James Gaisford, Stella McComas
Christian Vuissa
87 Mins.
Mirror Films (Seen on BYU TV)

 "The Letter Writer" Review 
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Bernie Diamond and Aley Underwood in The Letter Writer

Christian Vuissa isn't your usual cinematic voice. A 2002 graduate of Brigham Young University's Media Arts program, Vuissa is a refreshingly authentic filmmaker in what could be regarded as the "faith and family" genre of filmmaking. A devoted man of faith, Vuissa is gifted at weaving faith, family, tradition and the fundamental longings of nearly every human being into his films such as Baptists at Our Barbecue, A Good Man and his recent Plates of Gold.

The Letter Writer
is based upon Vuissa's own 2006 short film of the same name. Maggie Fuller (Aley Underwood) is a rebellious and troubled teenager trying to find her way yet making lots of wrong choices along the way. She receives a mysterious letter, an extraordinary letter the affirms and seemingly understands the "real" Maggie Fuller. When she finally tracks down the letter writer, pen name Sam Worthington (Bernie Diamond), Maggie must continue the search for herself despite the absence of this elder man who'd become both friend and mentor.

The wonder of The Letter Writer is subtle. It lands upon your heart like a gentle rain. The weird thing about a Christian Vuissa film, and it's certainly true with The Letter Writer, is that you're sitting there watching the film thinking to yourself "Boy, this is rather fundamental and basic" then, seemingly out of nowhere, tears are streaming down your face and you're realizing what a beautiful film has unfolded before your very eyes.

Aley Underwood, who actually played the role of Maggie in Vuissa's original short film, is an excellent example. In the early scenes of The Letter Writer, Underwood IS an irritatingly self-centered and rebellious teenager. The performance is so convincing it's almost difficult to watch then, suddenly, as she gets to know her letter writer and Maggie experiences a shift you begin to realize just how wonderful a performance Underwood is offering. Underwood's shift as Maggie is incredibly heartfelt and layered with her body language changing, her facial expressions shifting and, yes, even her singing taking on an entirely different tone.

Underwood is surrounded by an excellent ensemble cast that includes the wonderful Bernie Diamond as Sam, a seemingly grumpy ole' man who is well in touch with the difference that he must make in whatever time he has left on earth. Pam Eichner, who was so wonderful in Vuissa's One Good Man, is equally convincing as both the frustrated and worn-out mother and, as well, the mother who begins to blossom herself alongside her daughter's changes. There is a silent scene between mother and daughter towards the end of the film that is both heartbreaking and exhilarating as mother and daughter have clearly connected once again.

As usual, Vuissa surrounds himself with a gifted production crew that helps give The Letter Writer a feeling of warmth that is rich with humanity.

The Letter Writer debuted yesterday, Thanksgiving Day, on BYUtv and will be shown again at the following times:

  • Sunday, November 27, 7:00 pm MST
  • Monday, November 28, 12:00 pm MST
  • Sunday, December 11, 7:00 pm MST
  • Monday, December 12, 12:00 pm MST
  • Saturday, December 24, 3:00 pm MST

For those unable to access BYUtv, the film can also be streamed live from the BYUtv website.  Fans of faith-based and family targeted cinema will embrace The Letter Writer, Vuissa's first non-LDS film but one that still exudes Vuissa's faith, integrity and belief in the power of humanity to make a difference and, as well, the belief that we all have a gift that we must use to serve others.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic