Pay it Forward movie poster is interesting for a number of reasons.
First, it provides ruled paper as a background so whoever writes "suck
my pussy" on all of the movie posters at the Lorimer stop on the
L train can, once and for all, display their remarkable penmanship. More
importantly, however, it reminds us all of the heavy weight stars that
are in it. This film has Academy Award® Winner Kevin Spacey, Academy
Award® Winner Helen Hunt and Academy Award® Nominee Haley Joel
Osment. I have a running joke with my friends that if I were ever in a
movie I would have my name legally changed to Academy Award Winner Robert
Penty. This would instantly give me credibility.
Pay attention to all of the trailers that you see from now on, take note
of the ones where they boast an Academy Award® winner or Academy Award®
nominee. I've even seen trailers featuring Academy Award® winners
Ben Affleck or Matt Damon for movies that they are starring in and haven't
written. It's these pictures that are promising you drama, balls to the
wall drama. We're talking puppies getting hit by cars kind of drama, lots
of crying and passionate monologues. Get ready for triumph of the human
spirit and a nice, happy ending.
Pay it Forward tells the story of Trevor McKinney (played by Haley Joel
Osment) being raised by a single mother in Las Vegas, the representation
of gratuitous sin. His mother, Arlene (played by Helen Hunt), is a struggling
alcoholic cocktail waitress. The story is set in motion when Trevor's
new teacher Mr. Simonet (played by Kevin Spacey) challenges the class
to plan a way to change the world and put it into action. Soon, Trevor
is bringing home Jerry (played by James Caviezel), a homeless man that
he finds on the outskirts of town. This is the first step in Trevor's
pay it forward plan. Do a big favor for three people, a favor that they
couldn't do for themselves. Those three will then do a favor for three
more people and so on. I'm not good with exponents but I think, executed
correctly, that puts us approximately three weeks and two and a half days
away from utopia.
Meanwhile, a little while into the future, a reporter's curiosity is piqued
when he receives a new Jaguar from a wealthy lawyer who asks only that
he pay it forward in return. The reporter (Jay Mohr) then tries to get
to the start of the pay it forward idea.
Fortunately, the movie recognizes that the idea is a difficult one. Jerry
fails to deliver on his promise to pay it forward. The unflinching success
of pay it forward would have made this movie unbearable. Ultimately, it
causes the people to think a bit about others. It's schmaltzy, but it's
The film's problems lie in its story telling and complete lack of authenticity.
There's the inspirational teacher, the struggling alcoholic mother, the
kind hearted child who wants to make the world a better place and the
heroin addicted homeless man that he tries to help, even Jay Mohr's character
is a stereotypical reporter with a nose for the news. There's nothing
fresh about these characters. They're already trite before we meet them
making them difficult to care about. The potential for interesting relationships,
such as the teacher and the student or the romance between Arlene and
Mr. Simonet, is left stilted and undeveloped.
The most interesting parts of the movie were revealed in impassioned monologues.
Arlene breaks down and realizes that she needs help with her alcoholism,
appealing to her son for help. There was a speech. There were tears. There
was a hug. Then it was forgotten. Completely. It's ineffective and unbelievable.
From the moment we see Mr. Simonet's scars, we want to know how he got
them. This curiosity builds throughout the film as children react to them
and it interferes with his relationship with Arlene. Finally, it's revealed
and we're supposed to be satisfied with a monologue explaining this character's
lifetime of dealing with this problem. That's a difficult job even for
Academy Award® winner Kevin Spacey. All of the problems in this film,
such as the return of Trevor's father (played by Jon Bon Jovi), are solved
as quickly as they arise, crisis averted, problem solved.
Ineffective story telling aside, there's no excuse for the end of the
film. It requires too much suspension of disbelief (particularly concerning
six degrees of separation) and emotional involvement in the lives of these
characters to be taken seriously. We haven't seen endings like this since
Mr. Holland's Opus or Titanic. It pains me to admit that, sentimental
sap that I am, those worked on me. This didn't. Of course, I'd like to
believe in the power to change the world. I also hope that something like
pay it forward could work because, one of these days, I'm going to want
my $9.50 back.
-- Robert Penty
Free Williamsburg© | 93 Berry Street | Brooklyn, NY 11211
| November 2000 | Volume 8