Pay It Forward

"Weak"

Pay It Forward Review


At the helm of "Pay It Forward," director Mimi Leder becomes such a manipulatively mawkish emotional puppeteer that it feels as if she's tossing tear gas grenades into the audience.

Adapted from Catherine Ryan Hyde's novel about emotional and physical scars, symbolic martyrdom and saving the world with deliberate acts of compassion, it's a story that would be difficult to tell without pulling a few heartstring. But ye-owch! Does she have to yank so hard?

The peerless Kevin Spacey stars as Eugene Simonet, a bottled-up, austere junior high social studies teacher with burn scars over much of his body and face. He opens every school year by offering extra credit to any student who can "think of an idea to change our world and put it into action."

It's mostly a motivational device, but 11-year-old Trevor McKinney (Haley Joel Osment) takes it to heart. He divines a cascading system of good deeds that requires any recipient to "pay it forward" --- to do a similar kindness for three other people -- and tests it out by bringing home a strung-out vagrant (Jim Caviezel, "Frequency") for a free shower, some Pepsi and a bowl of Cap'n Crunch.

This doesn't sit well with Trevor's hard-working, recovering-drunk single mom, played by Helen Hunt as a peroxide blonde with a trailer trash wardrobe and a broken-down pickup full of emotional baggage. But Mr. Simonet understands the boy's intentions and encourages him because "pay it forward" is the first idea he's ever heard from this perennial assignment that he thinks has a chance of truly doing good.

For an encore benevolence, Trevor then attempts to fix his teacher up with his mom. Both of them could use a little earnest tenderness and romance, but the kid has an ulterior motive: He's looking for a surrogate father to stand up to his absentee dad (Jon Bon Jovi), who he knows will come return before long to start anew an escalating cycle of apologies and abuse.

Quickly -- almost mysteriously -- Trevor's inspirational notion begins to spread, and parts of the film follow Jay Mohr ("Go," "Jerry Maguire") as a down-on-his-luck magazine reporter trying to track the "pay it forward" phenomenon from as far away as Los Angeles back to its source. Meanwhile, strangers prevent suicides, estranged families are reunited and a subtle, corporeal optimism washes over those who pay it forward.

This is a touching story, and with the kinds of profoundly human performances given by powerhouse actors Spacey, Hunt and Osment, the film will have at least some emotional impact on anyone without a heart of stone. But director Leder ("Deep Impact," "The Peacemaker") does a lousy job of hiding the puppet strings with which she jerks the audience around, relying heavily on, for instance, philosophical kiddie rhetoric spoken by Osment but clearly written by an adult angling for maximum, spoon-fed poignancy.

Probably due to time concerns, "Pay It Forward" skims over several significant character-establishing details, leaving the film with a hollow, artificial air about it (accentuated by some very unnatural, sound-stagy sets).

Even with a number of classroom scenes, never once does Mr. Simonet actually talk about social studies. The fact that the teacher lives a meticulously ordered life is only alluded to even though it plays a part in his hesitant relationship with Trevor's mom. And there is very little implication that he's violating parent-teacher ethics by dating her.

How Trevor conceived the pay it forward plan is something else that goes almost entirely unexplored and there's a lack of credibility in the way some of the characters participate. In fact, the definitive principles that give the plan its power are never clearly laid out at any point in the course of the picture.

This kind of minutiae is often lost in the translation of a book to film, but in this Hollywoodization, the hopeful spirit of Hyde's novel seems to be the most overwhelming -- and overbearing -- element that survived. Despite strong, veritable performances, the film feels too pandering and contrived (especially the heartbreaking finale) to have much credibility.



Pay It Forward

Facts and Figures

Run time: 123 mins

In Theaters: Friday 20th October 2000

Box Office USA: $32.8M

Box Office Worldwide: $55.7M

Budget: $40M

Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 40%
Fresh: 51 Rotten: 77

IMDB: 7.1 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Mimi Leder

Starring: as Eugene Simonet, as Arlene McKinney, as Trevor McKinney, as Chris Chandler

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Murder on the Orient Express Movie Review

Murder on the Orient Express Movie Review

The latest adaptation of Agatha Christie's 83-year-old classic whodunit, this lavish, star-studded film is old-style...

Paddington 2 Movie Review

Paddington 2 Movie Review

The first Paddington movie in 2014 is already such a beloved classic that it's hard...

A Bad Moms Christmas Movie Review

A Bad Moms Christmas Movie Review

Everyone's back from last year's undemanding adult comedy, plus some starry new cast members, for...

Brawl in Cell Block 99 Movie Review

Brawl in Cell Block 99 Movie Review

Filmmaker S. Craig Zahler brought a blast of offbeat creativity to the Western genre two...

The Death of Stalin Movie Review

The Death of Stalin Movie Review

Fans of the film In the Loop and the TV series Veep will definitely not...

Call Me By Your Name Movie Review

Call Me By Your Name Movie Review

Set in northern Italy in the summer of 1983, this internationally flavoured drama is a...

Thor: Ragnarok Movie Review

Thor: Ragnarok Movie Review

The most riotously enjoyable Marvel movie yet, this action epic benefits hugely from the decision...

Advertisement
Breathe Movie Review

Breathe Movie Review

While this biopic has the standard sumptuous production values of a British period drama, it's...

The Snowman Movie Review

The Snowman Movie Review

With a cast and crew packed with A-list talent, this film seems like it should...

The Party Movie Review

The Party Movie Review

Comedies don't get much darker than this pitch-black British movie, written and directed by Sally...

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) Movie Review

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) Movie Review

Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha) is on his way to becoming the new Woody Allen, which...

6 Below Movie Review

6 Below Movie Review

Based on an astonishing true survival story, this film is subtitled "Miracle on the Mountain",...

Mother Movie Review

Mother Movie Review

Darren Aronofsky doesn't make fluffy movies, and has only had one genuine misfire (2014's Noah)....

Blade Runner 2049 Movie Review

Blade Runner 2049 Movie Review

It's been 35 years since Ridley Scott's 1982 sci-fi classic, which was set in 2019....

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.