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When social studies teacher Eugene Simonet (Kevin Spacey) sets his class of 11 year olds the assignment of trying to change the world, he doesn’t expect one of them will actually do it. But precocious Trevor (Haley Joel Osment) dreams up a plan to make the world a more caring place. He decides to help three people, and instead of expecting them to pay back the favour, asks them to pay it forward by helping three other people. Trevor begins by aiding a homeless man get on his feet and setting up Simonet with his recovering alcoholic mother, setting off a chain reaction of love and kindness.

Review by Stuart Whitmore:
With its intriguing concept, Pay It Forward is an interesting film and not just for fans of weepies. It’s at least a three-tissue movie, but considering how saccharine it could have been, Armageddon director Leder keeps things relatively buttoned down. Spacey and Hunt are the key, their reserved performances as two scarred people, one physically, both emotionally, ensure sure the film is bitter as well as sweet. Between his dorky white lace-ups and her push-up bras, the two actors find real characters that we can believe in and sympathise with. Osment too posts another notable performance, suffering his unhappy childhood with a minimum of histrionics.

When the stars are off screen the movie stumbles. As Jay Mohr’s bit-part reporter backtracks across the country, those who have been touched by the Pay It Forward philosophy (including Angie Dickinson as distinctly unglam bag lady) come across like wide-eyed zealots in some new cult of peace and love. Sure Trevor’s idea is neat, but it’s not that mind blowing. Anyone would think these people had just encountered aliens. When the disciples show up en masse at the film’s shamelessly heart–squeezing finale, the whole enterprise slips down the ramp into a sea of sentimentality.

But the film’s biggest weakness that while Trevor’s acolytes are paying it forward, we’re watching Mohr work backward, reversing along the “Mother Teresa conga line” to find out who’s at its head. A mystery thriller like the recent Memento benefits from a tricky narrative. Here it backfires. There’s no surprise waiting at the end to reward us, but we lose our chance to feel involved in the kindness as it spreads. It’s a shame. The actors deserved to be in a better-plotted movie.

The DVD’s special features don’t do much to enhance the experience. The Making Of documentary is a 13-minute promo designed to tempt those who haven’t seen the movie to go to the theatre—a little pointless when you’ve already rented it. Leder is pleasant enough company on the audio commentary, jokingly introducing it as her first movie without nuclear bombs, but has little to add to our understanding of a movie that doesn’t exactly hide it’s message.

Published January 3, 2002

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You can buy it HERE - next day delivery within Australia

PAY IT FORWARD (M 15+) pd v

CAST: Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, Haley Joel Osment, Jay Mohr, James Caviezel, Jon Bon Jovi, Angie Dickinson

DIRECTOR: Mimi Leder

RUNNING TIME: 119 minutes

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video

DVD RELEASE: July 18, 2001 (Rental only)

SPECIAL FEATURES: Widescreen 1.85:1; Audio Commentary by Director Mimi Leder; The Making of Pay It Forward (an HBO First Look Special); Trailer. Languages: English 5.1, Italian 5.1, Spanish 5.1. Subtitles: English, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, Icelandic, Portuguese, Hebrew, Polish, Greek, Czech, Turkish, Hungarian.

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