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Film / The Ultimate Gift

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"I wanna give you a gift, a series of gifts, leading up to, well... how 'bout call it 'the ultimate gift'."
Howard "Red" Stevens, via Video Will

The Ultimate Gift is a 2006 American drama film based on the best-selling novel of the same name.

It opens with Mr. Hamilton (Bill Cobbs) being informed of the death of his long-time friend and colleague Howard "Red" Stevens (James Garner). At the reading of his will, Jason, Red's grandson, learns that his grandfather has a gift for him, "the ultimate gift", but only if he can complete a series of tasks, and learn the lessons embedded in them.

Followed by two sequels, 2013's The Ultimate Life and 2015's The Ultimate Legacy.

This film provides examples of:

  • Bait-and-Switch: After Jason receives a hundred million dollars, a brief montage plays of him back in his old apartment, talking on the phone about cars and interior design, implying he's succumbed to Aesop Amnesia and gone back to his old ways. Then comes a big meeting where he unveils what he's been working on: a home for children with terminal illnesses and their families, inspired by and named after Emily. And every cent of the hundred million is going toward building it, in addition to whatever money Jason spent on planning and design offscreen.
  • Becoming the Mask: Jason towards Emily. He only befriended her for the condition on the will, but eventually becomes a father figure to her.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The reading of the Red's will says everything viewers need to know about Red's family; all of his children have brought lawyers and clearly only care about the amount of money they'll be getting, and try to argue with Hamilton when they receive less than they think they deserve. Red's personal comments in the will allude to some of their bad habits, including a long string of failed marriages and being an Upper-Class Twit. Red later opens his Video Will by admitting to Jason that for all his business success, he did a terrible job of raising his family right.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Sure, Jason finishes all the challenges, becomes a billionaire, and gets together with Alexia, but Emily dies.
  • Bookends: At Red's funeral, a series of statues framed by dark clouds are shown to set the scene in the graveyard. When Emily dies, the same statues are seen from the same angles, with a clear blue sky in the background.
  • Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie: Red wished to be buried under Texas soil. His relatives pour some sand on his coffin at the funeral in North Carolina.
  • Character Development: Jason starts out as a spoiled rich kid with a grudge against his grandfather. As he goes through the challenges Red set up for him, he slowly matures, learning to value hard work, true friends, and charity. By the end, he's using his financial privilege for the benefit of others and has forgiven Red for the unwitting role he played in the death of Jason's father.
  • Conspicuous Consumption: Jason is revealed to have spent his trust fund on such luxuries as chauffeured hot-air balloon tours of Bordeaux, $25,000 a night hotel rooms with a private chef, and a wide variety of luxury cars. His Thanksgiving dinner shows that his family is as prone to this consumption, with several full turkeys for the family.
  • Cowboy: Gus. Jason isn't too shabby himself, once he gets into it.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Shortly after being challenged to use his paycheck from working for Gus to help someone else, Jason runs across the hobo he clashed with earlier going through someone's purse. The purse turns out to belong to Alexia and contains documents showing she's behind on rent.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Emily is not afraid to speak her mind. Jason has his moments, as well.
  • Disappeared Dad: Emily's father left Alexia to go to college after she got pregnant, leaving her to raise Emily as a single mom.
  • Dramatic Irony: One of Red's children is disgusted that all she inherited was a ten-thousand acre cattle ranch, declaring it only good for her husband to entertain his mistress. Shortly after, Gus is introduced, and makes no secret of the fact that he made his fortune running a cattle ranch.
  • Dying Alone: The only two people in the world who mattered to Emily were absent when she passes on.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Or at least as happy as you can be when the Littlest Cancer Patient bites it.
  • Fair-Weather Friend: After Jason's stuff is taken and his account is frozen, none of his friends are willing to help him despite all the favors he'd done for them in the past.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Only by a minute, sure, but when Jason is bringing Alexia's purse to the hospital and walks under the sign for the Children's Oncology Unit...
    • Emily's comment to Hamilton:
      "I plan on knowing Jason for the rest of my life"
    • When Jason pays Alexia's back rent, he's 100 dollars short of the total, which he promises to repay to Hamilton. The next scene is of him dumping 100 dollars in change and small bills on Hamilton's conference table. Much later, it's shown how he got the money: collecting cans and bottles to turn in for recycling, selling newspapers and other small items (without a permit) and scooping change out of fountains. Some of these were crimes, but Hamilton chooses to overlook this because the fact that Jason paid the money back at all and put in the work to earn it is a sign of his Character Development.
    • During the Thanksgiving dinner, some of Jason's family members note that most of Red's estate wasn't actually given to anyone and speculate on what happened to it. It was being held in trust for Jason, and is given to him once he proves he deserves it by passing all of Red's tests and demonstrating genuine Character Development.
  • Gold Digger: Jason's girlfriend Caitlin. The rest of Jason's family seems to be this also.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Alexia implies that she could have had an abortion when she got pregnant with Emily and the father left her, but she decided to keep the baby. Even though being a single parent is clearly stressful or aggravating at times, especially once she learns that Emily's leukemia is terminal, she says she doesn't regret her choice.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Jason's father died trying to deliver medicine to a plagued village in Ecuador. At least that's what Red told Jason. In fact, Jason's father grew tired of Red trying to push him into the family's oil business, took the plane and went for a flight. The plane ended up crashing on a mountain, and Red couldn't bring himself to tell Jason the truth.
  • Idle Rich: Jason and his entire extended family. He gets better, though. Averted with an old friend of his grandfather's, who owns a huge ranch in Texas and still prefers to work with his hands even in his old age.
  • Inadequate Inheritor: Red feels this way about all his family, but thinks Jason has it in him to redeem himself. This is emphasized by the way he doles out inheritances in his will: while all of his heirs own their inheritance on paper, they have no actual control over their new assets. That is left to various trustees, implicitly to prevent them from selling their new holdings for quick cash or otherwise squandering them. Only Jason has full control over his inheritance, and only after he proves he'll use it wisely.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Jason and Emily.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: A platonic variant with Emily and Alexia. Emily knows her odds of beating her leukemia again are low, and goes out of her way to hook her mom up with Jason so Alexia will still have someone after she's gone.
  • Jerkass: An entire family of 'em. Jason starts out as the biggest one of them all.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Jason's character arc, in a nutshell.
  • Last Disrespects: Red's family at his funeral, from snide comments to showing up late and interrupting the pastor with your "muffler" that does nothing of the sort.
  • Little Miss Snarker: Emily.
  • Littlest Cancer Patient: Emily, as revealed partway through. Alexia explains that this is her second battle with leukemia due to her body rejecting a bone marrow transplant that sent the first bout into remission. In an unusual variant, Emily doesn't recover; her cancer is declared terminal about two-thirds of the way in and she dies shortly before the end of the movie.
  • Meal Ticket: Caitlin sees Jason as this, and abandons him when he asks her to pay for dinner when his account is frozen. As such, when she later hears that he has regained his wealth, she returns to rekindle things, but is turned down flat.
  • Missed the Recital: Alexia gets a call notifying her that Emily is about to die while she and Jason are in a meeting to unveil Emily's Home. Both drop everything and rush to the hospital, but are too late to fulfill Emily's wish that they would be with her when she died.
  • Never Got to Say Goodbye: Emily dies while Jason and Alexia are pitching Emily's Home to investors.
  • Newspaper-Thin Disguise: Used by the private detective who's keeping an eye on Jason in the hospital waiting room. Jason is well aware that he's there, as revealed when he rips the newspaper out of the detective's hands, hands him his paycheck, and tells him to pay Alexia's rent with it.
  • Nice Guy: By the end of the movie, Jason has matured into this.
  • Non-Idle Rich: Red's old friend Gus, who owns a huge ranch in Texas and still works alongside his ranch-hands.
    Gus: Wish I had a dollar for every fence post I've ever set. [Beat] Matter a fact, I do. [Chuckles]
  • Ominous Hair Loss: When Jason learns that Emily is The Littlest Cancer Patient, she's shown to be bald and there's a wig on a stand in her hospital room, implying that her hair fell out from chemotherapy even before she met Jason. As the movie goes on, she gets more and more scenes where she's not wearing the wig, which parallels her deteriorating health.
  • On One Condition: The only way Jason can collect his inheritance is by fulfilling Red's challenges.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Having your child predecease you is the worst thing a parent can possibly experience, as Red and Alexia can attest.
  • Parental Substitute: Jason, for Emily
  • Posthumous Character: Red is dead at the beginning of the film, but continues to exert his will through his Video Will.
  • Rich Bitch: Any of the women in Jason's family.
  • Running Gag: The private detective assigned to make sure Jason is actually working on Red's tasks frequently pops up in the background; it's lampshaded in a few scenes, such as when Jason confronts him and tells him to pay Alexia's rent and when the family wonders why he was invited to their Thanksgiving dinner.
  • Sent Off to Work for Relatives: One of Jason's first "gifts" is the gift of hard work. He is sent to a ranch in the middle of nowhere, to work for a close friend of his grandfather's, until he understands the value of hard work.
  • Shipper on Deck: Emily is this for her mom and Jason: many of the things she says to them are tailored to push them closer together and, later, to help them realize their growing feelings for each other.
  • Speak Ill of the Dead: Jason's entire family indulges in this during a rather tense Thanksgiving dinner. Him not participating in the slander is one of the earliest signs that he's taking what the gifts have taught him to heart.
  • Spoiled Brat: Pretty much everyone in Jason's family acts like this. One of his uncles all but throws a tantrum after his lawyers inform him his hands are tied during the will reading, and his cousins have no problem with taking Jason's things and going through them at the family's Thanksgiving dinner while the adults do nothing to stop them.
  • Stay with Me Until I Die: Averted. Jason and Alexia planned on being at Emily's side when she succumbed to her illness, but could not get to the hospital in time.
  • Stepford Snarker: Emily's blunt, sometimes morbid sense of humor is implied to be her way of coping with the very real possibility that she's going to die from leukemia.
  • Take That!: When Jason gets his paycheck for working on Gus's ranch, Red's video will includes a snarky comment about how the IRS has taken a big chunk out of it already. He starts to say more, but Hamilton steps in to get him back on track.
  • The Tape Knew You Would Say That: Red, to humorous effect.
  • Title Drop: Red in his Video Will:
    Red: I wanna give you a gift, a series of gifts, leading up to, well... how 'bout call it "the ultimate gift".
  • Video Will: The plot device that sets Jason's journey into motion.
  • Wham Shot: Jason peeks into Emily's hospital room, and we get two: a wig on a stand, and then a shot of Emily with a bald head, revealing that she's The Littlest Cancer Patient.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Alexia calls Jason out on his entitled and arrogant behavior several times. The fact that Jason is genuinely stung by her accusations and puts in the work to do something about them is an early sign that he's developing feelings for her.
  • What You Are in the Dark: While being held hostage in Ecuador, Jason gets a chance to escape when the thugs holding him don't close the door to his cell properly and then pass out drunk. He starts to make a break for it, but then turns around and goes back to rescue the man who was captured with him, risking his life to get them both to safety.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Emily, as expected of a Littlest Cancer Patient.