Pay It Forward

Click here for IMDB's info on Pay It Forward

By Jenny Lee

On one particular Tuesday, in an over-sized promotional T-shirt, I handed out free packages of popcorn, while another guy gave out samples of Salon Selectives shampoo and conditioner. We were both volunteering for the Social Planning and Events Committee Film's advanced screening of Pay It Forward, the much anticipated movie starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and Haley Joel Osment.

After we packed into Houston's Hall of Flags, the movie started right away, no introductions needed. Haley Joel Osment plays Trevor McKinney who winds up in Eugene Simonet's (Kevin Spacey's) 7th grade social studies class. The burns on Eugene's face becomes a side issue when Eugene's high expectations of the class unfold into an assignment: Think of something to change the world, and do it. How would an 11-year-old take on that? Trevor comes up with 'pay it forward.' Help three people in a big way, and only ask them to do the same. The plan ends up involving Eugene and Trevor's recovering alcoholic mother Arlene (Helen Hunt). Even with great dialogue and on-target acting, the movie can't shake off that feeling of sappiness.

As always, Haley Joel Osment plays all-around-kid to older-than-his-years Trevor to a 'T.' It seems as if he plays a pre-teen Cole Sear from The Sixth Sense. Putting that aside, Osment is genuine in his goal to do good. Yet again, Helen Hunt fills the role of a working mother who is over-protective of her only child. However, this time Hunt plays a more vulnerable woman with her son occasionally acting as parent. Kevin Spacey is excellent as the predictable, anal retentive Eugene who struggles with his own demons. Only he can pull off a burn victim and still have plenty of dignity.

Depending on how sentimental you are, this movie does appeal to you in one way or another. It speaks of the potential of human beings to be good samaritans, as cliched as that sounds. With as much care as she could, the director Mimi Leder (Deep Impact, The Peacemaker) tries to make things as realistic as possible. But several 'pay it forward' recipients later, it seems overdone, relying on typical plot lines. Surprisingly, the movie does have its funny moments. (Albeit, sitting in a large hall with your peers makes the more serious parts of the movie a lot less profound.) Jay Mohr provides comic relief as a reporter tracking the 'pay it forward' movement. As the plot enfolds, maybe, just maybe you'll be swept up into thinking that the world could be a better place. But then again, everything unravels into a less-than satisfying ending. It brought gasps of surprise to silent shock to disgust. If anything, it's definitely a shmutzy Hollywood ending.

Listening to the crowd as I exited Houston Hall, I heard mixed reactions. Some decried the implausibility of it all, while some actually liked it. Hell, even it appealed to my sentimental side, although I'm not so sure 'pay it forward' will be part of my vocabulary. In the end, don't expect to be knocked out of your seat, but if you're a fan of the Oscar-nominated cast, I'd go see it anyway.