Monday, March 12, 2007

"The Ultimate Gift" Movie

The movie The Ultimate Gift opened in selected theaters in limited showings on March 9, 2007. This movie is based upon the popular novel of the same name, The Ultimate Gift, written by Jim Stovall and published by RiverOak Publishing in September, 2001 (156 pages).

The book was well-received by both younger & older readers. It was adopted for use in schools, too. An Eighth Grade Reading Teacher (a Middle School Reading Specialist) commented on 10/27/2005 on the Barnes & Noble webpage devoted to the book:

I have used this book in my 8th grade reading classes for the past 8 years. This is the one book that all of my students have read all the way through. They can't put it down.

Just as it changed Jason's life, The Ultimate Gift has changed my life and is constantly changing the lives of my students. Excellent for students of all reading levels. I have recommended it to all of my colleagues. It is currently being used in the reading program at the High School across town. They love it too.
The movie's production was sponsored, in part, by the Financial Planning Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to the education & certification of financial advisors, who were much impressed by the book. See: Press Release, dated November 11, 2005, "The Ultimate Gift Begins Production in Charlotte":
The Financial Planning Association® (FPA®) and The Ultimate Gift Experience, LLC (TUGX) announced an agreement in June 2005 to create a working relationship that would enable the two organizations to explore the development of new services and products to transform the understanding and meaning of holistic wealth in today’s global society. FPA is the exclusive financial services association sponsor for this effort.
The movie's cast includes Drew Fuller, James Garner, Ali Hillis, Abigail Breslin, Lee Meriwether, Brian Dennehy, Mircea Monroe, Donna Cherry, & D. David Morin.

official website for The Ultimate Gift movie summarizes its plot:
When his wealthy grandfather dies, trust fund baby Jason Stevens anticipates a big inheritance. Instead, his grandfather has devised a crash course on life with twelve tasks – or “gifts” – designed to challenge Jason in improbable ways, sending him on a journey of self-discovery and forcing him to determine what is most important in life: money or happiness.
That website notes a "movement" involving, first, the book, and now, the movie based upon it:
A few years back, a little book started something very big. A message that has already prompted people to give to others, connect with friends and family, and help those in need like never before.

Every one of us has powerful gifts to share, now we all have the added inspiration, resources and opportunities of a full-fledged movement. Each day, the momentum grows and the impact widens, as The Ultimate Gift continues to inspire thousands, if not millions, of others to share the gift and change the world.
For faith-based, philanthropic, or family-oriented groups that desire to discuss "The Ultimate Gift Experience", the producers have made available inspirational & educational materials:
Each day, The Ultimate Gift continues to inspire millions of people to discover their own unique values and treasures. But it's not enough to simply discover those gifts -- they have to be shared.

Use these discussion guides, graphics and clips to spread the word so that others in your life will also have the privilege to experience The Ultimate Gift. * * *
Although not a "major motion picture" promoted by a large studio, the movie has received favorable reviews. Excerpts from reviews are noted here under the heading "A little movie with big heart wins over the critics", with links to publications in newspapers, including the Arizona Republic, Baltimore Sun, Black Star News, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Georgia Bulletin, Houston Chronicle, Kansas City Sun, L.A. Times, OrlandoSentinel, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Petersburg Times, Syracuse Post-Standard, Village Voice, & Washington Post, and also in news services or trade publications, like Catholic News Service, Forbes, Hollywood Reporter, ReelTalk, Scripps Howard, & Variety.

The message of the movie appears to be direct, moralistic & upbeat. Some review comments are noted here by MetaCritic, with links to the original published reviews:
  • Baltimore Sun -- "Things may work out predictably, but The Ultimate Gift does not yank on the heartstrings so much as pluck them gently."
    Chicago Tribune -- "The plot, though of the made-for-TV ilk, makes for good discussion fodder if you're trying to impress life's lessons on children or others you love. That said, be prepared to be hit over the head by the message, edifying as it is."
  • Variety -- "Although cynics likely will reject The Ultimate Gift as warmed-over Capra-corn, this predictable but pleasant drama based on Jim Stovall's popular novel may be prized by those with a taste for inspirational uplift and heart-tugging sentiment."
  • Village Voice -- "In the latest release from the faith-based division of 20th Century Fox, an oil-rich billionaire (James Garner) kicks the bucket and leaves a special bequest for his trust-fund-suckling grandson (Drew Fuller) — a gauntlet of hard work and hardship designed to give the boy an appreciation for the true value of a greenback. Among the tasks: living as a homeless person, and showing some genuine compassion for a debt-addled single mom (Ali Hillis) and her leukemia-stricken daughter (Abigail Breslin). If he succeeds, the "ultimate gift" of the movie's title will be his — which, in case you haven't figured it out, is one of those things you can't buy with a MasterCard."
  • Washington Post -- "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. Still, Breslin's captivating performance reminds you why she was recently nominated for an Oscar."
This movie might be interesting to those involved in charitable giving, family relationships, intergenerational wealth transfer, faith-based lifestyles, or morality-oriented education.

It might also be appropriate for businesses involved in these areas to host a showing, as indicated by a comment from a pre-viewer of the movie on February 17, 2007:
My company recently hosted a private premier of the movie in Oklahoma City. It is truly a heartwarming and touching movie, suitable for the entire family. Individuals should beware that the story does stray from the book, but it only serves to enhance the storyline. I can't wait until it's release to see it again.

In reading previous postings, it is apparent that some have not in fact seen the film. The main character in the book is a nephew, in the movie he is a grandson. The trials are spelled out in the book as twelve gifts, while in the movie, you don't get a full understanding that there twelve until just before the credits are rolled. The book is a great story, the movie's storyline is even better.
For those who desire to see the movie, but cannot find a showing theater nearby, look for the movie on DVD in the near future.

Update: 03/12/07:

At noon, I opened a routine broadcast email message sent by the
Planned Giving Design Center, last Friday, February 9, 2007, which announced & promoted the movie The Ultimate Gift. Read that posting here.

Update: 08/06/08:

For more resources and links on the matter of responsible wealthy children, see: PA EE&F Law Blog posting "Caring, Responsible (Wealthy) Children" (08/06/08).

Update: 10/12/08:

This afternoon, at a local Costco store, I bought
The Ultimate Gift movie on DVD for $12.99, then watched it (2 hours) at night.

It is not an action-thriller, but an ethics-driller -- which is what so many of us need right now.

As our American society collectively attempts to recover from the financial misbehaviors that parallelled the unrestrained lifestyle of Jason's character before he endures his tests, and then learns the twelve lessons, we can learn much from this story.

Now having watched it, I can recommend it personally.