Pay It Forward (2001) / Drama
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for mature thematic elements including substance abuse/recovery, some sexual situations, language and brief violence
Running Time: 123 min.
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, Haley Joel Osment, Angie Dickinson
Director: Mimi Leder
Screenplay: Leslie Dixon (based on the novel by Catherine Ryan)
Review published October 26, 2000
A great movie might have been made of this material, and certainly the cast would have pulled it off to large success, but Pay It Forward is so phony I can't help but consider it a major disappointment. Director Mimi Leder, who previously created another squishy schmaltz flick known as Deep Impact, seems to follow up each good scene with two or three bad ones. Momentum is never achieved, and plausibility is something the film is absent of, and this was desperately needed for Pay It Forward to work. Hunt and Spacey, even if they are somewhat miscast, do shine in their respective roles and save the film from being an excruciating experience.
Only the terrific performances by the two stars keep this mushy and manipulative "inspirational" tear-jerker together. Pay It Forward had a decent idea: a teacher (Spacey, The Big Kahuna) introduces a different kind of assignment for his social studies class. The assignment is to think of some way to change the world for the better and then to try to put it into action. Trevor (Osment, The Sixth Sense) is one of his young students who concocts a plan whereby a person has to do a big favor for three other people. The recipients cannot repay the giver back, but must instead pay forward, and do the same for three other people and so on. Trevor, the son of alcoholic and abusive parents, has some favors in mind, including that of his teacher Mr. Simonet, who suffered bad burns covering most of his body, as well as his mother (Hunt, Dr. T and the Women), struggling to stay sober and protect Trevor from his absent father.
By the end of the film, attempts are made to be elegaic and deliver a sincere message to the hearts of all viewers, but the only tears I shed were of laughter at how obvious all of it is. The only way to make this film any more manipulative would be to intercut each scene with "LAUGH" or "CRY" to let us know what we're supposed to be doing. Paying it forward is a good idea, but paying eight bucks for it is definitely not.
©2000 Vince Leo