I did things backwards. Maybe that’s not all that unusual for me.
The Ultimate Gift is the first in the trilogy of the Ultimate movies. I saw it second. I saw the third one—The Ultimate Legacy—first, at the 25th Heartland Film Festival. In some ways the first is similar to the third, in other ways different.
The premise is similar: young man from uber wealthy family needs to find himself, and a deceased relative developed steps that the young man has to take in order to access his inheritance. Along the way, the young man learns what life is truly about, learns values, and develops into the man he should be.
Many central characters in the third movie appear in the first (or vice versa). The young man, Jason, in the first movie (The Ultimate Gift) appears as a mentor of sorts in the third movie. His love interest in the first movie is his wife in the third movie. Circumstances in the first movie help explain why his young daughter in the third movie means the world to him and why he devotes such time to his wife and daughter.
Mr. Hamilton and Ms. Hastings (re)appear, a constant legal presence in this series of movies. Instead of a wealthy grandma (Raquel Welch), the benefactor who turns Jason’s life around is his wealthy grandpa (James Gartner). Brian Dennehy appears in both movies as Gus, a gruff Texan rancher who tries to get the young men to man up through manual labor.
In The Ultimate Gift, after the wealthy businessman Red Stevens dies, his family gathers not to mourn but to learn what parts of his assets they will receive. All go away disappointed. They are all beyond redemption, but Red placed his hope on being able to save his grandson Jason. He couldn’t do it in life—Jason clearly had cut him off and not responded to scores of letters that Red wrote him—but perhaps he could do it beyond the grave.
To receive his inheritance, Jason is forced to work through 12 steps, referred to as gifts: work, money, love, friends, laughter, giving, family, problems, learning, dreams, gratitude, a day. By going through each of those steps or receiving these gifts, he learns and grows. He discovers what really matters. And through them, he heals from the knowledge of how his father really died and forgives his deceased grandfather.
What becomes most important to him is six-year-old Emily, the daughter of a woman that he is falling in love with. But ultimately he has to learn that there is nothing he can do to save Emily from her leukemia. Instead, he directs his efforts, his connections, and his money toward creating an environment and services that could help others in a similar situation.
The Ultimate Gift is a great feel-good movie, one that the family might enjoy over any holiday. It is a bit divorced from the average person’s experience—how many of us have a wealthy relative that forces us to re-evaluate our values and the meaning of life?—but makes us look at values that make life meaningful.