For Ali Hillis, shooting The Ultimate Gift—which opens in limited release on Friday—was quite a gift in itself.

She'd spent almost two months bobbing in the ocean while making her last film, the straight-to-video Open Water 2: Adrift, a try-not-to-get-eaten-by-sharks B-movie thriller that critics are, shall we say, chewing up and spitting out.

So Hillis welcomed the chance to move on to something as wholesome and uplifting as The Ultimate Gift, the latest movie from FoxFaith. The film was not only shot on dry land, but on location in Hillis' hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, where she got to stay at her parents' house while making the movie. As a bonus, she was also surprised to learn that the screenwriter, Cheryl McKay, was an old friend from Charlotte with whom she'd acted in a local teen theatre group.

The film, based on a popular Jim Stovall book of the same title, is about a twenty-something spoiled rich kid, Jason Stevens, who has an opportunity to inherit a fortune from his just-deceased grandfather. But before he can pocket the cash, Jason must first pass a series of tests—as stipulated by his grandfather's will. Each test presents an opportunity for Jason to learn a valuable life lesson.

Along the way, he meets Alexia (played by Hillis), an attractive single mom who is facing a test of her own: Her young daughter, Emily (the sensational Abigail Breslin), has just been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Alexia's and Jason's worlds couldn't be further apart, but Emily's condition somehow pulls them together and … Well, to say any more would be to say too much.

Joining Hillis (Must Love Dogs; Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) and Breslin (a recent Oscar nominee for Little Miss Sunshine) in the terrific ...

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