I'll come right out and say it: movies like Upside make my job worthwhile. Not that it isn't already great on its own, what with all the great music I have access to 24/7. But once in awhile, a gem like this one is uncovered, causing me to smile to myself and say, "Wow. I've got it good."
But enough about my job and how Upside reminds me I'm truly blessed to have it. The story goes that Solomon "Soli" White (Randall Bentley, Heroes) is a star high school lacrosse player who seems to have his future cut out for him: an impending sports scholarship to Cornell, a blond, seemingly popular girlfriend and basically, the "perfect" life. That is, until he suffers a head injury during a vital lacrosse match that was his chance to impress the talent scout in attendance.
His world is turned upside down, literally — the damage to his brain flips his vision and his lacrosse days are over, until his vision is right side up again and his raging headaches subside without the aid of painkillers. In the meantime, he is issued an ultimatum by his English teacher, Mrs. Buck (theater veteran Taylor St. Clair): write a 5000-word essay with the theme "See The World With New Eyes", or risk losing his scholarship for good.
Unable to play lacrosse and having to constant return home to a controlling mother intent on planning his life for him, Soli sits in on a session for the visually impaired and meets Wren Woods (newcomer Leah Sims), a pretty, independent older girl who was born blind. Their friendship grows and eventually, mutual attraction develops, as the seemingly fearless Wren opens Soli's eyes to faith and God.
At the same time, recognizing his potential in writing, Mrs. Buck enlists the help of an old friend, Craig Parker (Jeremy Harrison), to help Soli in his assignment. Their interaction is refreshing, with Craig widening Soli's perception of writing and encouraging him to take charge of his own life.
The film shows, without preaching, that God works in mysterious ways: love and enlightenment are borne of adversity and Soli can now make difficult decisions he was once unable to. Though its pace may seem slow at times, directer Ken Horstmann manages to make it worth the viewer's while, with rich character and plot development: Soli finds direction and meaning in life, Wren's endearing wit and positivity belie her inner fears as she struggles to deal with them and Craig and Mrs. Buck make changes for the better in their own lives. The wonderful soundtrack helps, too.
Those who watch Upside will be inspired by its underlying themes of faith and reliance on God, as well as its message that, whatever happens, there is always an upside.
Letters To God
Tyler Doherty is a cancer-stricken eight-year-old who, in the midst of his suffering, regularly prays to God in the form of letters addressed to Him, which he leaves in his mailbox for the mailman to deliver.
Sounds cheesy? That's what I thought — until I actually watched it. Based on the true story of writer Patrick Doughtie's late son, Tyler (1995 - 2005), it depicts the life of Doherty (played ingeniously by Tanner Maguire, whose credits include CSI: NY, Desperate Housewives and Without A Trace) as he is recovering from brain tumor surgery and two months of MRIs and radiation. He lives with his widowed mother, Maddy (Robyn Lively, Chicago Hope) and elder brother, Ben (Michael Bolten, Criminal Minds), while his grandmother, Olivia (Days of Our Lives' Maree Cheatham), helps care for the boys when Maddy is at work.
Everyday, Tyler writes a letter to God, praying for himself, his family, his friends and everyone else around him. When the new mailman, an alcoholic by the name of Brady McDaniels (Jeffrey Johnson, Bones) fetches the mail, he sees the letters and, unable to bring himself to shred them, tries to leave them at the local church. The pastor spots him and, believing that the letters wound up in his hands for a reason, persuades him to keep them. Soon, Brady grows close to the Dohertys, feeling a deep sympathy for and affinity to Tyler. He is reminded of his own son, who is temporarily in his ex-wife's custody.
As the film progresses, Tyler's struggles and triumphs are chronicled: the heartening relationship between he and his best friend, Samantha "Sam" Perryfield (the wonderfully precocious Bailee Madison, Bridge to Terabithia), the impact his unfaltering faith and strength has on his family, neighbors and Brady and how his constant determination and positivity allow him to live a full, albeit short, life.
The focus on Jesus and how God listens to every prayer is obvious but not overbearing and it is impossible not to be moved (or even to shed a tear or two) by the end of the film. We can laugh with Tyler and Sam as their sincere interaction and simple innocence brings joy to their lives. We can cry with Maddy as she faces the overwhelming possibility of losing her son. We feel Brady's pain as he risks losing permanent custody of his son. And above all, we see the ripple effect Tyler's life has on everyone around him.
I am not the first person to sing the praises of this film but if you haven't heard the kind of positive critique it has received or simply don't understand the hype, I strongly recommend this DVD, if not for its quality direction and performances, then for its proof of the power of prayer.