The Ultimate Gift
|The Ultimate Gift|
|Directed by||Michael O. Sajbel|
|Produced by||Rick Eldridge
Jim Van Eerden
|Written by||Jim Stovall (Novel)
Cheryl McKay (Screenplay)
|Music by||Mark McKenzie|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox
|Running time||117 minutes|
The Ultimate Gift is an American film based on the best selling novel by Jim Stovall released on March 9, 2007 in 816 theaters in the USA. The film’s DVD sales were quite high in relation to its theatrical receipts and it continues to be a tremendous success in DVD sales and on television.
When his rich granddad, Howard "Red" Stevens (portrayed by James Garner) died, Jason (Drew Fuller) thought he probably wasn't going to inherit a piece of the old man's multi-billion dollar estate. He strongly resents his grandfather because his father had died while working for him. There was an inheritance, in fact; but it came with a condition. Jason must complete 12 separate assignments within a year in order to get it. Each assignment is centered around a "gift". Gifts of work, money, friends and learning are among the dozen that Jason must perform before he is eligible for the mysterious "Ultimate Gift" his grandfather's will has for him. Throughout his trials and tribulations, the family attorney, Mr. Hamilton (Bill Cobbs), and his secretary Miss Hastings (Lee Meriwether) attempt to guide Jason along the path his grandfather wishes him to travel. But this is a hard task for the guides, because Jason is a spoiled under-achiever who never had to genuinely work. For instance, to carry out the first task he has to fly to Texas, and naturally assumes he has a first-class seat, and is annoyed when he discovers he has a coach class seat, complaining to the steward "Don't you know who I am?"
On his return after completing the first task in Texas, everything he values is suddenly taken away from him - luxury apartment, his restored muscle car (a 1970 Dodge Coronet R/T), and all his money - and he is left homeless. His trendy girlfriend, Caitlin (Mircea Monroe), ditches him when his credit card is rejected at a fancy restaurant, and she is mortified when he asks her if she could pay the bill. After his mother (Donna Cherry) tells her son she cannot help him as part of the agreement, he miserably wanders the city; for the first time truly alone.
It is while sleeping in a park that he encounters a woman, Alexia (Ali Hillis), and her outspoken daughter Emily (Abigail Breslin). Jason befriends the two, but then tells them that he needs them to come to the attorney's office and confirm themselves as his "true friends" in order to pass the "gift of friends" assignment. But afterward, Jason walks away and ignores Emily's request to see him again, convincing Alexia and Emily that Jason is too self-centered to be a real friend. However, soon afterward Jason accidentally discovers that Emily is suffering from leukemia, and sees this family as a chance to develop a strong bond with someone. Indeed, the emergence of his "true" self is the key theme of the film.
From that point onwards he tries as best he can to help Emily have a great life while it lasts. Emily also engineers and encourages a romance between Jason and her mother. After Jason has worked through the twelve gifts in twelve months, he finally comes to see his grandfather as more than a dead billionaire who he believes disliked him. One of his tasks requires him to travel to Ecuador and study in a library his grandfather built to help the people there. This also forces him reluctantly to confront his resentment over the death of his father there, but he ends up making a dangerous trip into the mountains to see where it happened. Upon completing his twelve tasks, and enduring this and other "harsh conditions," Jason is given a sum of $100,000,000 to do with whatever he pleases, and all of his property is returned to him. His former girlfriend, knowing that he has regained his wealth, makes an attempt to win him back with the offer of sex, but he disgustedly walks out on her.
With his inheritance, Jason chooses to build a hospital, called Emily's Home (named after Emily), for patients with deadly diseases and their families, which also includes a church (knowing that Emily was often in the hospital chapel). But then before the building begins, Emily dies. Alexia and Jason pray for her at the chapel. After the groundbreaking for Emily's Home, he is brought back to the law firm for one more meeting. He had exceeded the expectations of his dead grandfather, and receives one final "gift" of over $2,000,000,000, rewarding Jason not only for his completing the tasks, but for using the $100 million to help others. That night, Jason is seen sitting on a bench in the park, when Alexia joins him. He thanks her for the help that she and her daughter gave him. Then they kiss as a butterfly, representing Emily, is shown flying around them.
- The Gift of Work
- The Gift of Money
- The Gift of Friends
- The Gift of Learning
- The Gift of Problems
- The Gift of Family
- The Gift of Laughter
- The Gift of Dreams
- The Gift of Giving
- The Gift of Gratitude
- The Gift of a Day
- The Gift of Love
Cast and crew
James Garner plays the mysterious Red Stevens. In the leading male role is Drew Fuller, better known from WB's long-running series Charmed. Drew described performing in the movie as "an actor's dream." Emily is played by Academy Award-nominated actress Abigail Breslin, and her mother by Ali Hillis of Must Love Dogs.
The film was produced by Jim Van Eerden and Rick Eldridge, directed by Michael O. Sajbel and written by Cheryl McKay. Costumes were designed by Jane Anderson (Rudy, Hoosiers) with makeup by John Bayless (Cold Mountain, The New World).
North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory has a cameo appearance in the movie from his time as mayor of Charlotte, where the movie was shot.
Mark McKenzie wrote the film's incidental music. At the film's climax, Something Changed is highlighted, a song composed by Contemporary Christian Music-singer Sara Groves. Other songs include Gotta Serve Somebody by Bob Dylan, The Thrill is Gone by B.B. King, and Crazy by Patsy Cline.
Although well received by audiences, the movie was given mixed reviews from movie critics. "Though The Ultimate Gift avoids religious speechifying, it's dramatically inert with flat direction" says Rotten Tomatoes. The Ultimate Gift has a 32% overall approval (56 reviews with a 5.1/10 average rating). On Metacritic the film has a rating of 49 out of 100 based on 16 reviews.
Among the harsher reviews The New York Times' reviewer said, "Reeking of self-righteousness and moral reprimand, [the movie] is a hairball of good-for-you filmmaking......[T]he movie’s messages are methodically hammered home." John Anderson of Newsday, called the movie "cartoonish and broad," and commented on the surprising obsession with material possessions, while The Washington Post noted, "There's nothing wrong with the moral of The Ultimate Gift's story; in fact there's everything right about it. But director Michael O. Sajbel too often succumbs to movie-of-the-week sentimentality and starchy pacing."
Christianity Today felt the film warranted 2.5 out of 4 stars and called it "lovingly crafted ... but never manages to build up much mystery, suspense, tension, or narrative steam.". Joe Leydon of Variety was favorably impressed and noted that "Discussions of faith and God are fleeting, almost subliminal -- without stinting on the celebration of wholesome family values." William Arnold of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer writes "Its sincerity, optimism and air of open-minded tolerance go down well, and it makes a nice change-of-pace." He lauded its "tight and often compelling" screenplay, sparkling dialogue and "first-rate" production values.
The Washington Post and The Hollywood Reporter both thought highly of Breslin's performance as the young girl calling her "captivating" and referring to her "charm," respectively. Indeed, it was a common theme for both those who recommended the movie and those who did not to praise Breslin's role.
Box office and DVD sales
The Ultimate Gift opened quietly with receipts of 1.2 million USD its first weekend. As a result, many theaters dropped the film, causing a drastic slide in screens and ticket sales. As of May 6, the movie had grossed a total of just over 3.4 million USD. DVD sales were $9.55 million in the first two months following its release.
Because of the philanthropic message of the film, charities in a handful of communities sponsored advance screenings of The Ultimate Gift to coincide with National Philanthropy Day 2006. Among such regional screenings was one in Richmond, Virginia, organized in partnership by The Community Foundation Serving Richmond and Central Virginia Bon Secours Health Care Foundation, Richmond Jewish Foundation and the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Professor Paul Schervish of Boston College was among those in attendance for the event. Another pre-screening took place on February 22, 2007, in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, under the auspices of the United Way of Southeast Missouri. In addition, organizations such as Bernhardt Wealth Management of McLean, Virginia have held private screenings for their clients. Bernhardt Wealth Management hosted such a screening on February 24.
Movie cost and underwriting
The movie was financed with $14 million from the Stanford Financial Group,  wealth management firm based in Houston. Stanford showed the movie to prospective clients at private screenings and according to an executive of the firm, they were able to track a number of multimillion-dollar relationships that resulted because of the film.
Notes and references
- "The Ultimate Gift". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2007-05-25.
- Google books - The Ultimate Gift By Jim Stovall
- "The Ultimate Gift (2007)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2008-05-12.
- "The Ultimate Gift (2007): Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 2007-04-09.
- Catsoulis, Jeannette (2006-03-09). "Grandpa’s Legacy, Beyond Cash". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-03-09.
- Anderson, John (2006-03-09). "A prodigal son's quest for redemption". Newsday. Retrieved 2007-03-09.
- Hornaday, Ann (2006-03-09). "The Ultimate Gift". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-03-09.
- Arends, Carolyn (March 9, 2007). "The Ultimate Gift". Christianity Today. Retrieved 2007-04-11.
- Leydon, Joe (March 8, 2007). "The Ultimate Gift". Variety. Retrieved 2007-04-11.
- Arnold, William (March 8, 2007). "'Ultimate Gift' makes the most of its faith package". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved 2007-04-12.
- Scheck, Frank (March 8, 2007). "The Ultimate Gift". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on 2007-03-14. Retrieved 2007-04-11.
- Krauss, Clifford; Phillip L. Zweig & Julie Creswell (2009-02-18). "U.S. Accuses Texas Financial Firm of $8 Billion Fraud". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-02-17.
- Driver, Anna (27 February 2009). "U.S. charges Stanford with massive Ponzi scheme". Reuters (Thomson Reuters). Retrieved 28 February 2009.
- Farnham, Alan (2006-03-12). "You're Pulling My Legacy". Forbes. Retrieved 2007-03-09.
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