3 Stars - Wholesome
It is easy to imagine a world in which everyone always makes the right choices and our children and grandchildren live responsible, blessed lives. Yet the truth is that no one lives such an ideal life. Instead, we try to make up for the mistakes we make in a multitude of ways with some of us even using our wills as last resort instruments of healing or manipulation after we have died. That is the case for Red Stevens (James Garner) in the film version of the national best-seller, “The Ultimate Gift.”
Written by Jim Stovall, the story begins with the videotaped will of Stevens to be played upon his death by his long-time friend and lawyer Ted Hamilton (Bill Cobbs). Having lost his relationship with all of his children and grandchildren for various reasons, Red tries to reach his grandson Jason (Drew Fuller) by offering him a series of twelve “gifts” that require him to grow emotionally, financially, relationally and spiritually.
At first reticent to make such a journey since the “ultimate gift” is unknown, Jason accepts the first gift not knowing that it is to be the gift of knowing the value of a hard day’s work. Flying him down to Texas where Red’s old friend Gus (Brian Dennehy) has a huge ranch, Jason discovers both the satisfaction of work and the value of a paycheck, although he resents it at first.
The other “gifts” take Jason on a journey of self-discovery that can only be described as miraculous. Along the way he serendipitously, perhaps, comes across an impertinent young girl and her endearing mother. Emily (Abigail Breslin) and her mother Alexia (Ali Hillis) are destitute due to a variety of difficulties they face. But it is in this chance encounter that true healing and the gift of family come to Jason.
The film strikes just the right chords as we experience both the joy and the pain of Jason’s journey. It is easy to cry with him as he realizes the truth about his father and it is easy to rejoice with him when he discovers his ability to grant people their dreams. But what is hinted at in the film which gives it substance is the faith of Emily and Alexia in God and Jason’s awareness that a place of worship is needed in every person’s life, especially those going through difficult times.
Though we won’t disclose the “ultimate gift,” it is in some ways a disappointing but predictable conclusion of the film. Only when we become free from the “love of money” are we able to actually use money for its intended purpose: to care for people in their time of need. That is a gift-lesson we all need to learn.
- The anger Jason has against his grandfather is due to a great loss in his life and his misunderstanding blended into it. Have you ever experienced a loss that turned to anger? How did you get free from that?
- When Jason accepted the challenge of the journey, he did not know how long or how hard it would be or what would be the final, ultimate gift. Would you have chosen to take the journey or not? Why do you answer as you do?
- The belief of Emily that heaven will be a place of butterflies reveals her young hopes. What are your hopes about heaven? What are your fears?