Pay it Forward

PG-13
Stars: Kevin Spacey, Haley Joel Osment, Helen Hunt

Terrific concept (taken from a novel), good screenplay, great cast, wonderful acting; “Pay It Forward” wrenches the heart whether you want it to or not.

Kevin Spacey stars as middle school social studies teacher Eugene Simonet, whose disfiguring burn scars keep him locked in his own lonely hell of an existence.

On the very first day of school for his seventh grade class, Simonet poses a challenge in the form of an ongoing project: Think of an idea to change the world and then put it into action. Presumably everyone understood that the challenge meant change it for the better.

Eleven year old Trevor McKinney (Haley Joel Osment) immediately picks up the gauntlet and runs with it. Looking around at his Las Vegas working class neighborhood, Trevor spots his first opportunity to change the world. It’s in the guise of homeless man Jerry whom he brings home for a meal and a slightly more comfortable place to sleep…in his mom’s pickup truck in the garage. Trevor’s idea is that one big good turn deserves another big one. When a big favor is done for one person (one that the person cannot do for him/herself), that person must then, pay the favor forward to another three people, rather than paying it back to the original giver. His second mark is mom herself, Arlene (Helen Hunt), a rough and tumble woman working two jobs, one as a money changer at a casino and the other as a scantily clad waitress at a lower class hotspot. Arlene struggles with alcoholism and the memories of Trevor’s deadbeat of a father, both of which stress Trevor no end, but cope he does.

Trevor soon discovers that changing the world for the better is not an easy thing – not everyone wants to or can change. His third mark becomes teacher Simonet, a partially willing soul who tries desperately to change and become romantically involved with Arlene, as scary as that notion is to him. When that falls on its face, Trevor becomes so disappointed that he is willing to accept that his project was a complete failure, yet all around him, people are ‘paying it forward’, just as in all those endless chain letters that rotate the globe and yet, no one knows the actual source.

“Pay It Forward” is based on the novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde; screenplay by Leslie Dixon and directed by Mimi Ledger. Also features James Caviezel as Jerry, Jon Bon Jovi as deadbeat dad Ricky and Angie Dickinson almost unrecognizable as Grace.

Lotta says it’s a sentimental film that is handled so adeptly and is so well acted that each character is quite believable. It’s one of those feel good movies which makes you believe that maybe the world isn’t such a rotten place after all. The single worst thing about the film is the ending. It need not have gone there. It could have effectively gotten its message across if it had not gone that one little extra step. To me, it’s the ending that kept this film from getting my highest rating, the doggie Party Hat. When you see the film you’ll get an idea of what I’m talking about. Otherwise, it was thoroughly enjoyable.