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on January 22, 2004
Trevor McKinney (Haley Joel Osment) is a struggling pre-teen. His mother, Arlene (Helen Hunt) is a recovering alcoholic, his father Ricki (Jon Bon Jovi) is an absent, abusive deadbeat and they live in a run-down house with nothing but sadness around them. Trevor is inspired by his teacher, Eugene Simonet (Kevin Spacey), who has a struggle not so easy to hide from others. He has burn scars on his face that often scare others away and this has made him so self conscious, his only friends are his students and he avoids contact (romantic or otherwise) with adults for fear of rejection.
Eugene proposes taking the Golden Rule ("do unto others....") to action - so that every time someone does something for you, you do something for someone else you don't even know. Trevor decides to push the first domino by doing good deeds for those he doesn't know and before you know it, it has become a nation-wide trend to "pay it forward."
Behind the scenes, Trevor becomes a little matchmaker. He knows his mother needs a caring man to take care of her and that Eugene needs a caring woman to take care of him. He sees potential in them for romance, while keeping his teacher as his mentor instead of leaving him behind as he advances to the next grade level.
There is a lot of schmaltz in this film, everyone is either a demon or a philosopher. Even the crack addict on the street can quote Shakespeare and emote warm fuzzies to the point you feel your eyes roll up - but the acting of Spacey, Hunt & Osment make this into a bittersweet, inspirational tale.
Despite the warm fuzzies, there is language, violence and sex - so this one is not for the kids.
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Pay It Forward (2000)
Drama, Romance, 123 minutes
Directed by Mimi Leder
Starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osment

Pay It Forward follows two storylines. The first is introduced in the opening scene when a reporter sees a car crash into his own while it is parked. A complete stranger throws him the keys to a brand new Jaguar. The second story begins four months earlier when 11-year-old Trevor (Osment) is given a school assignment by his teacher, Mr. Simonet (Spacey).

Here's the assignment:

"Think of an idea to change our world - and put it into ACTION!"

That sounds simple enough, doesn't it? The assignment is designed to inspire the students to make some small attempt to change something within their power, but Trevor takes it literally. He finds a homeless man, takes him home, feeds him, and allows him to sleep in the garage. His alcoholic mother, Arlene (Hunt), meets the man the following morning when Trevor invites him in to use the shower. Arlene is not pleased.

People just don't take those kind of chances in the real world. The homeless man is a junkie and his arms are covered in needle marks. What if he is violent or mentally ill? But, what if he's just down on his luck and one small act of kindness could change his life? How do we know the results of our own actions? One smile or kind word at the right time could change someone's mood or make a much bigger difference.

Trevor's idea isn't that simple. He vows to help three people, but these acts of kindness have to be something big. He tries to set up Mr. Simonet with his mother and wants to prevent a friend from being bullied at school. Simonet and Arlene provide the romantic element in the movie. Simonet has burns all over his face and Arlene works two jobs and struggles to stay sober. These characters are deeply flawed, but Trevor thinks he can improve both their lives.

The second part of the idea requires the three people he helps to each do favors for three other people. He calls it paying it forward. We see some of the people who are helped and watch them try to help others. We're also shown the other story thread as the reporter follows the trail back to Trevor. Some of the revelations are quite astounding.

In a way, this idea is similar to advertising. If you help someone and ask them to help others in return, you can't be sure that they will honor your request. If they do honor it, there's no guarantee you will ever know. It could happen months or years in the future. The idea is planted like a seed, just like an advertisement. Have you ever bought something months later because of an advertisement you once saw or heard about?

It's unusual to see Spacey play such a regular guy. He's not cast as a cool criminal, an angry boss, or a rebellious employee; he's unsure of himself and a bit of a loser. Hunt doesn't exactly look glamorous either. The relationship seems authentic because these two people desperately need somebody in their lives. Angie Dickinson makes a brief appearance, but plays her role convincingly.

Some of the best ideas in history seemed simple. Couldn't pay it forward really work if we just allowed ourselves to believe? Doesn't everyone have some good in them? It's been 12 years since the movie was made and the world seems the same, so I can only assume that the idea hasn't caught on. But for two hours, why not allow yourself to believe that it's possible? Some of the stories are touching and remarkable, while others are extremely sad.

Mimi Leder tells a very human story and gives us characters who seem real. The acting is as good as you would expect from the exceptional talent on display. Another key ingredient is Thomas Newman's score, which reminds me of his work on American Beauty, also starring Spacey.

Pay It Forward is a touching emotional drama with a strong story.
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on December 3, 2003
It's hard to know what to say about a movie like this. First thing I'd like to say is that the two Oscar winners in the movie, in my opinion, are the weakest parts of this movie. Kevin Spacey is a wonderful actor, but his melodrama in this movie is nauseating, and Helen Hunt does not pull off the "drunken mother" role at all. I felt the strongest parts of this movie were Jim Caviezel's homeless man and the story of Jay Mohr trying to find out where this all started.
I've heard countless people say the following:
a. It has a good message.
b. The ending is so sad.
c. I wish this could really happen.
Here are my answers to these:
a. The message is good, but if all you're looking for is a message, pick up a bible.
b. The ending isn't that sad. The movie itself was so cliched, you can almost expect the ending.
c. If you want this to really happen, stop wishing it and go out and do a good deed.
That's my 2 cents worth. Don't waste your time with this movie. The great actors that are in it have all done better stuff. Save yourself the aggrevation and go rent "As Good as it Gets", "The Usual Suspects", "The Sixth Sense", and "American Beauty". You'll be much more entertained.
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on November 29, 2003
I really like Spacey and Osment, like Hunt fairly well, and the premise seemed intriguing, so I was looking forward to this movie. Even though it was a bit schmaltzy at times and I was less than thrilled by the implication that helping a thief elude police is doing him a favor, I still very much enjoyed the movie, and wondered why it did not do better in the box office. Jay "king of the jerk character" Mohr's character even got sympathetic near the end.
Then the last 5 minutes of the movie was committed.
The writers were probably going for poignant, probing, thought-provoking, and ironic. What they "achieved" was pedestrian, ordinary, over-the-top, and exceedingly sappy. I understand that this movie is based on a novel, so in a sense, I guess it's the author's "fault". But there have been many movies-based-on-books in which major plot points were changed to make the movie more marketable. This should have been one of them.
One of the characters describes the world as a "s***hole" -- if you believe this movie from start to finish, it really is.
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on February 13, 2010
We have a large, and well thought out film library at A Home Away. All of our films are recovery or spiritually based. Pay It Forward was a natural addition, and it has been very well received. Our guests come broken and looking for a new way to live. This film is all about broken people looking for love and acceptance in the world in new and healthy ways. The characters are very real. The portrayal of alcoholism and all of its bafflement is very accurate.

This film brings tears to eyes, and hope to hearts. It reinforces one of my favorite sayings, "don't give up 5 minutes before the miracle happens".

I recommend this film for everyone.

Jane Derry
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on May 9, 2010
this is our second time watching the movie PAY IT FORWARD. we found it an excellent movie and recommended it highly to our fiends.should be more movies of this kind instead of the garbage thats out there today.
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on February 3, 2016
I purchased this movie to go with the book that I did in a grade 8 class. I was very disappointed in the content, it was not PG. It had excessive language that was not necessary to the story and also scenes that did not have to be included. Unfortunately I am unable to show this in my class.
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on June 11, 2001
This movie was ok, not great, but ok (maybe 3 stars), until the end. The end was terrible. First what happens to the main character. Then the whole stupid part with the candles--is she supposed to feel all better now because people are standing outside her house with candles? I don't think so. I know people in the theatre with me thought it was really poignant, but I thought they just tacked on a depressing ending to make it seem more weighty.
If you don't like sappy, maudlin movies, definitely pass on this one.
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on June 11, 2004
Pay it forward is brilliant example of life. i absolutely love this film and have it on dvd myself. the way it approaches the problems we all encounter in life is amazing. when trevor, the young boy just reaching 7th grade, thinks up an ingenious an wonderful way to make good reach the entire world, we can empathise with his quest as he is left alone regularly by his alcoholic mother and has come from a very disturbing background. when his teacher proposes that the class partake in an assignment whereby they must change the world, trevor gets very involved. i'v heard of a lot of people saying that the end scene was 'pinched' from field of dreams an i would like to put it straight that the end scene is perfect for this film. although it tugs harshly on the emotion strings the ending is perfect in every way. a valuable message to be taken from this film is no matter how bad it seems, a shimmer of good and hope is always there. my advice to everone is watch this film. i guarentee you will not be disappointed. x
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on April 14, 2004
Helen Hunt leads an all-star cast as a hard working mom from Vegas, raising seventh grader, Trevor, on her own. Social Studies teacher, Mr. Simonet, played wonderfully by Kevin Spacey, is the crusty middle-aged man who can't come to grips with his painful childhood experiences which leads him through a lifetime of lonely bachelorhood. When he assigns the class an extra credit project to "change the world," Trevor finds an original way to intrepret the job and literally sets out to, one by one, create a hands-on affect on his community. First he befriends a homeless man, Jerry, played convincingly by THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST'S Jim Caviezel, and tries to help Jerry get back on the right track. Jon Bon Jovi plays Trevor's nasty pop, who saunters back into the picture just when Helen Hunt begins a tender relationship with Mr. Simonet. The viewer roots for the PAY IT FORWARD idea, despite numerous setbacks. Angie Dickinson has a small role as the weather-battered drunk mom of Helen Hunt, and we see Jay Mohr intermittently as a fumbling reporter trying desperately to track down the originator of this Pay it Forward "movement." The ending took me by surprise, and I will not spoil it, but suffice to say there won't be a dry eye in the house when you see it for yourself. This one is a keeper!
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