A Grandfather's Legacy
Donald Trump and Bill Gates are two of the richest men around, and perhaps they're also the happiest. But wealth and happiness don't always go hand in hand, at least according to The Ultimate Gift, an inspiring drama about how a spoiled trust-fund playboy turns his life around as the result of a mysterious inheritance from his grandfather.
Jason Stevens (Drew Fuller) arrives late to his mega-wealthy grandfatherís funeral as well as to the reading of the will. Why? Heís convinced the man will leave him nothing because the two have been estranged ever since Jasonís dad died. Instead, the executor of the will plays a DVD made by the grandfather (James Garner) before he died, one in which he offers Jason a series of tasks (gifts) he must accept before finding out the monetary amount of his inheritance.
Reluctantly, the grandson agrees to undertake this strange journey and, through the experiences set up by his late grandfather, finally becomes a person who knows the true value of work, friendship, money, family, dreams and love. After Jason completes each task, we canít help wondering what the next one will be, and this suspense heightens our interest in the story, as does the mystery regarding what caused the rift between grandfather and grandson.
During Jasonís trial period, he comes in contact with a lovely mother (Ali Hillis) and her feisty daughter (Abigail Breslin), a little girl suffering with leukemia. One of the tasks Jason is charged with involves finding a real friend -- and Breslinís character happens to be the person he chooses. The amusing and sometimes tender rapport between Fuller and Breslin emerges as the highlight of The Ultimate Gift. Itís a real treat watching these two together on screen. Breslin matches her Oscar-nominated work in Little Miss Sunshine with a brilliant performance in her key role here. Projecting a variety of intense emotions, she's like a miniature version of Bette Davis or Barbara Stanwyck in their days of celluloid glory.
Other standouts in the cast include Garner (The Notebook) and Hillis (Must Love Dogs). Itís always a pleasure to hear Garnerís soothing voice; happily, we get that opportunity often in this film as we listen to his character impart wisdom to Jason. Hillis brings sincerity as well as likeability to the role of a woman coming to grips with her childís disease. Brian Dennehy (Assault on Precinct 13) also delivers a strong turn as a tough Texas rancher who helps teach Jason how to do physical labor. Leading man Fuller (of TVís Charmed), a very photogenic young actor, appears more comfortable in the filmís less confrontational sequences, but, as mentioned above, shines in scenes with Breslin.
Unfortunately, a couple of editing problems in The Ultimate Gift contribute to a bit of confusion about whatís happening. The last camera appearance of Garnerís character didnít make sense to me, and a video of Jasonís homeless activities left me scratching my head. But those are minor quibbles, for The Ultimate Gift presents a welcome and uplifting message about how to live instead of simply ďexisting.Ē
As a result of its efforts to inspire, teach and transform, this movie won a well-deserved Crystal Heart Award at the 2006 Heartland Film Festival. But make no mistake about it -- although boasting many light moments, The Ultimate Gift deals boldly with sorrow and grief. Bring tissues.
(Released by Fox Faith and rated ďPGĒ for thematic elements, some violence and language.)
Listen to Betty Jo's review of The Ultimate Gift on the ReelTalk Radio Show by clicking here.