Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Ultimate Gift from Fox Faith

The Ultimate Gift (2007, directed by Michael O. Sajbel, novel by Jim Stovall, screenplay by Cheryl McKay.

20th Century Fox has established a couple of other subsidiary distributors for specialty films besides Fox Searchlight, namely Fox Atomic, (which will distribute "The Hills Have Eyes 2" as well as Turistas) for horror, and, at the other end, Fox Faith, for religious films made by please faith-based (often evangelical Christian)production companies to send a faith-like message. This film is the first from that new distributor.

When I saw it in a National Amusements theater in Merrifield, VA, there were no previews, probably because the distributor does not want "inappropriate" preview clips associated with the film. That is just as well.

The film does with a less familiar literary theme, although well known in Victorian literature, the dead hand, where a recipeint of a will must perform certain tasks (or abstain from certain behavior) to receive or keep a bequest from a will. Here the young man Jason Stevens (played by Drew Fuller) has been a playboy, and his grandfather assigns him twelve tasks (called "gifts") on a DVD in order to receive his inheritance. In a sequence that sounds like an Apprentice series, they start with manual labor, and involve charity and friendship that winds up helping a little girl with leukemnia (Abigal Breslin, from Little Miss Sunshine). The film is set in Charlotte, NC, which looks very handsome. The film deals with service to others and is light on religious preaching for its own sake.

Drew Fuller plays the playboy Jason Stevens, who goes to a “reading of the will” (as per John Knowles) expecting an inheritance from his grandfather “Red: (James Garner).  (Actually, the film is based on a novel by John Stovall.)

No, he won’t follow his own nose anymore, but he may not have thought out any goals yet (like they would ask you thirty years ago in job interviews). But his grandfather has a moral twelve-step program of self-improvement that he must complete to “earn” the inheritance, and that doesn’t mean swallowing a fly.

The tasks play out like a treasure hunt, like some manual labor on a ranch, but the most challenging part may be incorporating a cancer patient (leukemia) into his life (Abigail Breslin). He also gets sent to Ecuador, to be kidnapped, but he escapes.

Physically, Jason’s bod goes through some tribunals, too.  

The "dead hand" theme has been used in comedy films before, as with The Bachelor (1999, New Line, dir. Gary Sinyor), and La Cage aux Folles III. Typically the requirement is intrusive and requires getting and staying (heterosexually) married, a requirement that gay people would find insulting. The concept really is not funny. "The Bachelor" is in fact quite a biting satire of the idea that a man would want to impose procreating his seed upon his heirs, and sees biological loyalty as a legitimate virtuous or moral requirement for obtaining an inheritance. In this film, the requirements after marriage (to live under one roof for at least ten years and produce at least one biological heir) are quite intrusive. But remember that marriage and procreation forged political alliances; remember the beginning of Sofia Coppola's film Marie Antoinette, from Columbia.

Update: 12/30/2007

The Lifetime Movie Nora Roberts's Montana Sky (dir. Mike Robe, produced by Stephanie Germain, Mandalay) sets up a "dead hand" where three sisters at odds (two of them "prodigal") have to live and work on their deceased dad's ranch to get an inheritance.

(The second picture is actually from West Virginia, Saddle Mountain).

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