Giving somebody a car. Giving a homeless man shelter. Helping two people fall in love. All are part of a new phenomenon sweeping the nation in Mimi Leder’s new movie, Pay It Forward.
Pay it Forward has been highly anticipated because of its Oscar-friendly cast, all of whom are coming off huge performances. The cast includes Helen Hunt (As Good as it Gets), Kevin Spacey (American Beauty) and twelve-year-old sensation Haley-Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense).
Based in part on a book written by Catharine Ryan Hide, Pay it Forward begins with an anonymous man offering the keys of his new Jaguar to reporter Chris Chandler, played by Jay Mohr (Go), whose car was recently stolen. When Mohr asks the mysterious man why he is being given a Jaguar, the man replies, I’m just paying it forward. Simple enough. But those few words travel fast, and soon, paying it forward becomes a national phenomenon.
Next we find Eugene Simonet (played by Spacey), an organized social studies teacher who hides behind his big words and scared face, beginning his 7th grade class with an annual extra-credit assignment. The assignment is to think of an idea to change the world – and put it into action. The students respond with perplexity and propose unoriginal plans such as ideal recycling worlds and other unattainable goals.
Mr. Simonet is pleasantly surprised, however, with Trevor McKinney’s clever idea, which he called, pay it forward. Trevor (played by Osment) hopes that if he helps three individuals in a big way, they would continue to pass on favors to three more people, triggering a chain-reaction. Each person involved would see the importance of one good deed and want to become a part of paying it forward to make the world a better place.
We are first introduced to Arlene McKinney (played by Hunt), when Trevor brings home a homeless man who he has deemed in need of saving. Hunt plays a character similar to her single mother role in As Good As It Gets. Arlene is a recovering alcoholic trying to find the best way to juggle being a mother, a skimpy-clothed cocktail waitress and a Casino vendor. She is trying her best to quit the booze and focus on her son. She first confronts Mr. Simonet at Trevor’s school, demanding to know why her son has brought a homeless man into her house. Arlene responds to the teacher’s witty insults by harshly insulting his facial scars.
Immediately, the audience sees the connection between Arlene and Mr. Simonet. These fine actors, whose characters’ lives are completely opposite in nature, portray their love-hate relationship extremely well. The connection between the two builds when Trevor tries to pay it forward to his next case, the troubled Mr. Simonet. Trevor finds loneliness and rejection in his teacher that reflects upon his own experiences at home. The boy’s wishful thinking is that Mr. Simonet’s solution is his mom, Arlene.
Throughout the movie, Chris Chandler travels state-to-state searching for the person who began this crazy/wonderful idea of paying it forward. As he goes on his journey, he finds more and more people taking part in the phenomenon. He hears from dozens of adherents to the phenomenon, When someone does you a big favor, don’t pay it back, pay it forward. Chandler discovers that even simple, low-income people find it within them to help another lost soul.
Pay It Forward could easily be both a huge blockbuster smash and an Oscar nominee for Best Picture. The actors are cast perfectly and do an incredible job portraying their characters. Helen Hunt becomes Arlene McKinney, the struggling, distressed mother. Osment has astonishing gift for acting. He is adorable in playing the sad, but wishful boy. Spacey is simply superb. Add in Jay Mohr, some other talented actors and a guest appearance by John Bon Jovi, and you get a wonderfully heartening movie that leaves one thinking, What can I do to `Pay it Forward?’
Pay It Forward is now playing in theaters.