Fixing fragile souls. Trevor plays matchmaker to his mom and his social studies teacher (l to r: Hunt, Osment and Spacey).
Pay it Forward

dir Mimi Leder
scr Leslie Dixon
with Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, Haley Joel Osment, Jay Mohr, Angie Dickenson, James Caviezel, Jon Bon Jovi, Kathleen Wilhoite, David Ramsey, Gary Werntz, Marc Donato, Colleen Flynn
release USA 20.Oct.00; UK 26.Jan.01
Warners 00/US 2h03 2 out of 5 stars
With perhaps the most heart-warming message imaginable (you can change your world because there's goodness in everyone!), director Leder and writer Dixon set about to warm our hearts ... or die trying. This film tries so hard to be touching and meaningful and deep and powerful that it ends up as a sticky, syrupy bog. Eugene (Spacey) is a social studies teacher who has withdrawn from life due to his horrific past (wait for the big revelatory scene!). Each year he assigns his 12-year-old students with a task to change the world. Most students come up with something rather silly, but little Trevor McKinney (Osment) takes it very seriously, coming up with something he calls "pay it forward"--helping someone, then asking them to pass on the good will three times rather than pay it back to him. First target is a homeless guy (Caviezel), and then he turns his attention to his alcoholic mom (Hunt) ... and of course the teacher himself.

There's more--lots more!--including Trevor's absent father (Bon Jovi), homeless grandma (Dickenson) and a journalist (Mohr) following the trail back to Trevor. And it all comes shuddering to one of the worst film endings in recent memory--contrived, maudlin, unnecessary and milked for all its worth. Leder is a gifted director--the film is very well-made, with superior performances all around--but she neglects to insert even a smidgen of real life honesty in the story. There's a seriously good theme in here--an important message about not giving up on people, taking small steps as part of the bigger picture, and so on. But without even a hint of cynicism or irony, the film ends up as a heavy-handed weep-fest. Yuck!

[12--themes, language] 23.Jan.01

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"The movie starts with a reporter who is attempting to cover a story and ends up getting his car totalled while the criminal escapes. It is a rainy night, and all of a sudden he has no ride - out of nowhere a man shows up, asks if he is having car problems and tosses him the keys to a brand new Jag. Since this is Los Angeles, where no one does something nice for nothing, he gets suspicious, tracks down the man and demands an explanation. He is told to 'pay it forward', do something nice for three more people. Further questioning reveals that someone paid it forward for the lawyer when he was in the emergency room with his daughter during an asthma attack, which leads him to another, and another.... Meanwhile in Vegas, a teacher (Spacey) with horrible scars is attempting to teach social studies to 7th graders. He gives them a year-long assignment to think of something that will change the world, then implement it. One student who wants to start a web page in Chinese and tell all the kids in China to jump up at the same time - hopefully forcing the earth off its axis. Another student puts recycling bins in some stores. And another (Osment), with an alcoholic mother (Hunt), suggests doing something nice for three people, then they would do something nice for three people, and so on. This movie shows what is happening in real time in Vegas, then jumps to the reporter tracing leads to the origin of the Pay it Forward 'cult or movement'. I loved this movie - I think the actors did a good job with their roles, and I also think the theatres should give out free Kleenex to all who see it. It makes me hope that maybe it will start a movement of paying it forward - who knows? Maybe the world is not that bad a place, and it would certainly be nicer if people started to do as this movie suggests! Go see this movie, and bring your Kleenex." --Laurie T, Minneapolis.

"There was a maze of plots in the core of the film that was hard to keep separate, and I thought the ending was poor. Spacey, Hunt and Haley Joel Osment were great. The role of the homeless woman was played by Angie Dickinson, who was hard to recognize." --Barbara B, California.

2001 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall