One Good Deed Deserves Three Others
"Pay It Forward" is a rather pleasant; surprisingly touching movie which draws you in to a clever storyline with impressive sensitive performances but sadly spoils things by trying to hard to manipulate your emotions. Director Mimi Leder over eggs things in delivering sentiment, to the point that what had been a beautifully touching movie becomes almost cheesy as it creeps to an end that spoils what was an amazingly heart wrenching twist which would have had even more impact if Leder had stopped then rather than drawing "Pay It Forward" out longer than was clearly needed.
Young Trevor McKinney (Haley Joel Osment - The Sixth Sense) is inspired by and assignment set by his new teacher, Mr. Simonet (Kevin Spacey - The Negotiator) who asks his class to think of something to change the world and put it into action. Trevor comes up with the idea of not returning a good turn but passing it on to three other people. His simple idea starts to work as the lives of his alcoholic mother, his emotionally scarred teacher and those around him start to change for the good, including journalist Chris Chandler (Jay Mohr - Picture Perfect) who having being the recipient of an act or random kindness sets about discovering where the idea originated.
The storyline to "Pay It Forward" may seem rather fanciful but is also rather wonderful with the innocence of a young child coming up with a simple way to make things better in a world which according to the young Trevor is "Shit". It's a nice idea that rather than returning a good turn you pay it forward to 3 more people doing them a good turn, an act of random kindness in order for the movement of generosity flows free in some form of pyramid system.
It may be a highly flawed concept because as humans the idea of paying it forward, doing a good turn to 3 other people just because 1 person did you a good turn just doesn't happen in the harsh real word, although it would be great if it did. But then it does work in "Pay It Forward" and is cleverly used as it tries to show it's flaws that just because Trevor did a good turn doesn't mean it will be paid forward, although then again it wastes many an opportunity to show how flawed it really is.
What also works is the clever multi levelled story where you have the obvious side which revolves around the expected relationship between Trevor's alcoholic mother Arlene and his school teacher Eugene Simonet who inspired him to make a difference. Plus their in the intertwining storyline with the journalistic, Chris Chandler, which crops up through out as he tries to discover where the pay it forward movement originated after he himself was a recipient of an act of random kindness. It works remarkably well delivering an engaging story, which draws you in and hits you when revelations appear such as the reason behinds the school teachers scarred features.
"Pay It Forward" also hits you in the face with sheer heartbreaking emotion as it delivers the most unexpected of twists that leaves you completely gob smacked. It's an amazing moment, one which I defy anyone not to shed a tear at but then it spoils it. It goes over board in the search of emotion delivering an overlong ending, one which feels far too manufactured, even too cheesy that you just wish they had shown some restraint and ended the story on the true emotion rather than the manufactured version.
But whilst the flawed ending spoils things "Pay It Forward" is made all the better by three knock out performances. Whilst I struggled to believe Helen Hunt as Trevor's mother Arlene was ever an alcoholic her characterisation of a mother trying to make a go of it, someone who at heart is kind but warn down by life is captivating. As is the performance of Kevin Spacey as Eugene Simonet who inspires young Trevor to make a difference. In one moment he is that stiff teacher, reliant on his routines to live yet in the next he is a passionate man, one who you can see cares for kids in particular Trevor.
But the performance which blows you away is that from the young Haley Joel Osment who is just stunning, putting in a performance of someone beyond his years. When Trevor does anything, be it help a stranger, talk to his teacher or give his mother a hug every second is amazing in fact there are numerous scenes which just blow you away as you forget that Haley Joel Osment wasn't even 12 when this was made yet delivers the most captivating of performances which makes you love this young boy, but not in a cutesy sort of way.
What this all boils down to is that "Pay it Forward" is a seriously impressive movie, one which hits you with a twist that hits you so hard that you are left breathless. It maybe a flawed idea, the concept of passing on good turns but it's a nice idea one which would make the world a better place. But sadly it is spoilt by the manufactured ending which feels like director Mimi Leder tries too hard to manipulate your feelings to draw emotion long after she needed to.