The Ultimate Gift (PG)
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This is based on a book I haven't read, by Jim Stovall, which is probably better than the movie, but of course I can't be sure. The movie came out in 2006 (or 2007?), but I didn't see it until 2013. I had been channel surfing sometime in the vicinity of Christmas in 2011, and caught a few minutes of the movie. It seemed like something I might want to watch all of, so I set the DVR to record another showing of it, and then I never got around to watching it during the holiday season. So I said to myself, I'll just wait and watch it on Christmas in July. But by the time July 2012 rolled around, the movie had disappeared from the DVR, probably because stuff just doesn't stay on there that long. Whatever, that was annoying. But eventually I acquired the DVD, and watched it on July 25, 2013. (It's really not at all a Christmas movie, though there is eventually a Christmas scene- well, technically two scenes, but the first was not at all Christmasy, and the second was very Christmasy, but wasn't actually set on Christmas.) I don't think there was any scene in the movie that specifically seemed familiar to me from the few minutes I had previously seen on TV a year and a half ago, but it was similar enough that at least I'm fairly sure I'm not thinking of the wrong movie.
Anyway... I liked it a lot. Apparently most critics didn't think highly of it, and I can't really blame them. It does have somewhat of a "movie of the week" feel to it, though I also think if it actually was a TV movie, people would be much more impressed and, ironically, might very well say it's almost of cinematic quality. (But I guess we'll never know.) Um... it's a very "family values" type of story, so I could have put my review under "family," but I do think it's more geared toward people of all ages than most family movies. (Which is kind of weird, when you think about it, since the word "family" technically implies people of all ages, whereas the movies we might call family movies tend to be geared more specifically toward kids. Not that I think the movies I put under "family" can't be enjoyed by people of all ages, anyway, but... meh, I think too much. Sorry.) The movie also seems to faintly equate morality with Christianity, but I really don't see this as being at all a "Christian" movie. Um... what else? I'm not sure I can disagree with most critics' complaints about things like writing or direction or pacing or acting. None of those elements were actually bad, but they were just a bit bland, or something. I dunno. Except for some of the actors, whom even the critics tend to praise. Most notably Abigail Breslin, she was really good. James Garner was good. Bill Cobbs was good. And everyone was at least okay.
Now, I suppose I should explain the plot. Well, this rich old guy named Red Stevens (Garner) dies. Most of his family are just ridiculously selfish, greedy jerks who obviously didn't care about Red, or about each other, or about anything but money. He leaves each of them something, though none of them are happy with it, mainly because, in some way that I don't fully grasp, it seemed like they didn't actually get control of whatever they got ownership of. I don't know what that means... like, either you own something, and can therefore do whatever you want with it, or you don't. I suppose it kind of means they could keep using stuff, like property or businesses, and potentially earn money from it, but... whatever. I don't care. None of that really matters. The only thing that matters is what Red leaves to his grandson, Jason. Jason has never worked a day in his life, he's always just had money and done whatever he felt like. All he wanted out of life was to have fun, all the time. In general, he was just like his greedy relatives (except he had no ambition at all). Anyway, the executor of Red's estate is his lawyer and friend, Mr. Hamilton (Cobbs), who presents a video recording to Jason, which Red had made before he died. Red explains that he's giving Jason a series of gifts, leading up to an ultimate gift. But if he doesn't follow the directions of Hamilton, he won't get anything. The gifts aren't actually money or possessions, they're more like lessons or tests, to help Jason become the kind of person Red believes he can be. Which of course Jason has no interest in, but he doesn't actually get to know what each gift is until he's gone through them. Nor does he know what the ultimate gift is, but he wants to find out.
I don't want to spoil the precise nature of any of the gifts, but Jason does learn about hard work, and about the real value of money, and about real friendship and family. (He's clearly never had any real friends before, and "family" is not an appropriate word to describe his relatives.) In the course of his learning, he befriends a girl named Emily (Breslin) and her mother, Alexia. They're both much nicer than anyone Jason has ever met (and Emily really is a pretty cool and funny kid). So over time, they become very important to him. There's also a whole subplot about Jason hating his grandfather, because he blames him for his father's death, years ago. And of course that plays into at least one of the lessons Jason has to learn. And... I guess that's all I want to reveal of the plot. But whatever flaws the movie may have had, I felt it effectively tugged the heartstrings. And it was occasionally humorous. (There's also a line Emily has at one point early on that seems mildly amusing at the time, but which in hindsight will eventually become... much more humorous, in a dark way, but mostly it's just a tearjerker, when you realize what she actually meant by it. In fact that is possibly the single best thing in the entire movie.) Oh, and near the end of the movie, "twelve gifts" are mentioned, but the movie had only specifically presented four or five "gifts" before the ultimate gift, so that kind of confused me. I suppose they must have been made clearer in the book. But over the end credits, we see edited snippets from throughout the film, along with captions naming each of the twelve gifts. So it became clear that all of them had been incorporated into the gifts that were actually specified in the movie. Which is nice.
There's a sequel coming out this September, called "The Ultimate Life," though I'm not sure if I'll have much interest in it. I might, but it's hard for me to imagine it being as good as this. The way this ends... I just don't really feel like it has much potential for a sequel that works. But it's based on a sequel book by Stovall, so... maybe it'll be okay.