Pay it Forward

Get the hankies out. By the end of Pay it Forward, there will hardly be a dry eye in the theater. The main purpose of this film is to make people cry, and it works well enough to disguise a rather fanciful story. The concept is that a person will help three people. The deeds must be difficult, something the recipient cannot accomplish him/herself. Then, instead of paying the person back, the recipient will "pay it forward" by helping out three additional people. That way, the world may just become a better place to live. And it's all an assignment dreamt up by young Trevor McKinney for his Social Studies teacher Eugene Simonet. The movie is based on Catherine Ryan Hyde's novel of the same name.

Trevor (Haley Joel Osment, A.I., The Sixth Sense) wants to change his world because he feels the world he lives in is horrible. His dad is not in his life and his mother Arlene (Helen Hunt, Dr. T and the Women, Castaway) works two jobs and is an alcoholic. He horrifies Arlene by bringing a homeless man (James Caviezel, Frequency, Ride With the Devil) into their house as one of his good deeds. Arlene rushes off to yell at Simonet, and Trevor decides that he wants to set them up together. Simonet is wary of any relationship because of burn-like scars on his face. He feels secure in a daily schedule of events he follows. Any deviation from them causes him anxiety.

This is the third big screen movie from director Mimi Leder (Deep Impact, The Peacemaker) and by far the most emotional. Everybody in the film carries a large amount of emotional baggage and needs careful handling. Most people lost their faith in the world, and Trevor's altruistic actions seem completely alien to them. Leder and screenwriter Leslie Dixon (The Thomas Crown Affair) jump back in forth in time with the story. One main line has reporter Chris Chandler (Jay Mohr, Go, Paulie), trying to trace back the line of favors. He slowly interviews people and is trying to make his way back to the origin. The other story follows Trevor and his attempts to use 'pay it forward' to better the lives of people around him. It is never confusing trying to discern the two.

The acting ability of Spacey and Hunt in any movie is enough to make people stand up and take notice. Especially with the material, which, as the movie goes on, borders on the melodramatic. There may not be at their best here, but it still is a lot better than most people. Hunt seriously deglamorized herself, putting on lots of tacky makeup and bleaching her hair, but it's hard not to imagine her as an Emmy and Oscar winning actress and a strung-out alcoholic. Osment also continues to amaze. Unlike most of his peers, he can actually act. He carries with him a sense of seriousness that takes years to achieve. The Las Vegas backdrop is also nice. The Strip is only a place where Arlene and Simonet visit sometimes, contrasted against the McKinney's middle to lower income existence. Things wrap up a little too nicely, but in a way, that is to be expected.

Haro Rates It: Pretty Good.
2 hours, 2 minutes, Rated PG-13 for mature elements: substance abuse/recovery, some sexual situations, language and brief violence.

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