The highly anticipated The Ultimate Gift opens Friday, March 9. The Fox Faith release featuring James Garner, Brian Dennehy, and this year’s youngest Oscar contender, Abigail Breslin (for Little Miss Sunshine), concerns a rebellious rich kid who learns that he has to accomplish several tasks before receiving his inheritance. Through these arduous missions and the grounded people he meets along the way, the young man comes to a spiritual enlightening. Based on the book by Jim Stovall, The Ultimate Gift doesn’t preach, it merely suggests. “Had I come out with a blatant faith message I would have lost a lot of the target audience I want to reach. I had to be cognizant of why people come to the movies. They didn’t come to get a motivational, inspirational, biblical message. They came to enjoy their evening,” says Stovall.
“If we are doing what I think we’re doing with this film, people will walk up the aisle after having invested two hours and ten bucks thinking about their lives. I can’t give them all the answers in two hours, but I’m hoping they can start thinking about some of the questions. For many of those people it will take them down a path that will lead to a personal commitment.”
And speaking of personal commitment, Stovall has one. “I grew up in a Christian home, I went to First Baptist Church in Tulsa, and I made a decision in vacation Bible school. But what often happens when you come face to face with a crisis, you learn the difference between religion and relationship. That happened for me in my twenties. Suddenly, the quarterly lesson of the week was not enough. You gotta get down to a real relationship with Christ.”
The crisis Mr. Stovall speaks of concerns his blindness. “A degenerative eye disease started when I was seventeen. It was a slow decline until age twenty-nine.”
Like many determined people, Stovall doesn’t allow this obstacle to eclipse his mission. “Anytime we have a challenge, it causes us to think of what’s important and what’s not. People go through any number of personal or family problems and we’re only as big as the smallest thing it takes to divert us from where we want to be.”
Though his book has sold over four million copies and is being taught as a curriculum in almost a thousand schools, Stovall doesn’t consider himself a writer. He is the co-founder and president of the Narrative Television Network, which makes movies and television accessible for our nation’s 13 million blind and visually impaired people and their families. “I wrote the book in five days. I dictated it between my calls and meetings.”
The book and now the film concerns a 12-step journey of self-discovery. The grandfather has shown his love for his grandson by sending him on twelve missions, each designed to develop his character.
And what are those gifts?
Work: He who loves his work never labors.
Money: Money is nothing more than a tool. It can be a force of good, a force of evil, or simply be idle.
Friends: It is a wealthy person, indeed, who calculates riches not in gold but in friends.
Learning: Education is a lifelong journey whose destination expands as you travel.
Problems: Problems can only be avoided by exercising good judgment. Good judgment can only be gained by experiencing life’s problems
Family: Some people are born into wonderful families. Others have to find or create them. Being a member of a family is a priceless privilege which costs nothing but love.
Laughter: Laugher is a good medicine for the soul. Our world is desperately in need of more such medicine.
Dreams: Faith is all that dreamers need to see the future.
Giving: The only way you can truly get more out of life for yourself is to give part of yourself away.
Gratitude: In those times when we yearn to have more in our lives we should dwell on the things we already have. In doing so, we will often find that our lives are already full to overflowing.
A Day: Life at its essence boils down to one day at a time. Today is the day!
Love: Love is a treasure for which we can never pay. The only way to keep it is to give it away.
Phil Boatwright is the editor and film reviewer for previewonline.org.
Read Phil's review of Read Phil's review of The Ultimate Gift.