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Overall Rating

Awesome: 23.84%
Worth A Look26.49%
Average: 13.25%
Pretty Bad26.49%
Total Crap: 9.93%

9 reviews, 97 user ratings

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Pay It Forward
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by Scott Weinberg

"Sappy, forced, artificial and manipulative--but really well ACTED! Great."
2 stars

You gotta love those plucky 'what-if' movies. You know - the ones that aspire to be classified as 'Capra-esque'! A movie where a universe very similar to ours is presented, only this world can change and dreams can come true, people are honest, and the violins swoon in the background and the two leads each win an Oscar...<ahem>...which is the only reason Pay It Forward really exists.

It's too bad that a handful of great acting performances can't save a movie from being this disappointing. As always, Kevin Spacey is simply a force of nature, and Helen Hunt gives a brave performance as a single mother just this close to being white trash. Individually and in their common scenes together, these are two eminently enjoyable actors offering some excellent (and even occasionally touching) portrayals. Suffice to say that the acting is not where Pay It Forward fails. For that, we look to the screenplay.

11-year old Trevor (Osment) has just been given a challenging assignment by his new Social Studies teacher: Devise a way to change the world, and then put your plan in action. Trevor concocts the idea of 'Paying Forward' which (in theory, anyway) is an effective pyramid-type scheme, in which someone who truly help out three strangers without expecting anything in return. As opposed to paying someone back for their kindness, the next person should instead pay it forward.

Trevor's first plan is to help a homeless man to get a job and stay off drugs. Unfortunately, things don't go to plan and that subplot is quickly jettisoned. (The editing and continuity are not exactly strong points in this film.) His second plan is to pair up his mother (Hunt) with the new teacher, Mr. Simonet (Spacey). But Simonet is covered with these awful burn scars, which prevent him from letting anyone get close to him.

It's at about this point that the movie begins to stray way off base. While the film could have been clever in the way it tracks Trevor's scheme from person to person, we are instead stuck with this forced romance between two unhappy people. The individual scenes work solely thanks to the presence of such strong actors. As far as the movie as a whole, almost nothing holds together.

Interesting minor characters are introduced, and then forgotten just as quickly. Subplots involving a reporter, a junkie, a criminal, a homeless old lady, and a lawyer are introduced and start out pretty as compelling, but too much time is wasted between these smaller stories. It's as if the studio realized that they had two 'big Oscar winners' in their movie, so that means they simply had to dominate the movie.

As the disfigured Mr. Simonet, Spacey brings his typical world-weary intelligence and wit, but he could do a role like this in his sleep. And the whole 'disfigured face' thing is nothing more than an old Oscar ploy, talented performer or not. Helen Hunt is also as strong as ever, although I think her character comes off a bit too 'slutty & raw' than was intended. As Trevor, Haley Joel Osment gives another strong performance, but he mainly just seems like 'that kid from The Sixth Sense'.

What's wrong with this movie is that we're not allowed to feel any emotions on our own. Every emotional scene is played to the hilt of overdone Hollywood melodrama. After a while, you realize you're watching a depressing romance movie, when the main plot of Trevor's scheme is infinitely more interesting. There are way too many scenes of Spacey or Hunt glaring at each other through tear-stained eyes while the music swells depressingly through the theaters.

The main complaint I have here is that Pay It Forward never stays true to its initial tone. First, it's a wistful and hopeful story, then it's bleak and downcast romance, before completely blowing it in the final five minutes. I won't give anything away, but what worked in the novel does NOT work here. I can't remember another movie in which the mood switches so many times and in such shallow fashion. It ends up making a somewhat likeable movie into a horrid and manipulative farce, and I left the theater angry.

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originally posted: 10/20/00 22:03:40
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User Comments

3/25/18 morris campbell not bad has a nice message 4 stars
12/05/10 Steffy Don't care what everyone says, i loved everything! the movie had a really good message! 5 stars
8/12/09 the dork knight Remember kids, good people get shivved! Way to ruin your message, movie. 3 stars
2/06/09 bob horrible ending and the movie kinda dragged on and took the spotlight off the whole pay it 3 stars
10/27/08 Samantha Pruitt so freaking sad, the acting is really great! always makes me cry. 5 stars
10/14/08 Shaun Wallner This movie delivers a wonderful message. 5 stars
7/30/08 the dork knight Preachy, sugar-coated crap with a decent performance by Spacey (his last, btw) 3 stars
3/04/08 Pamela White Awesome tale of a child's courage 5 stars
5/17/07 I'm Not Ok I Sweear This movie is a sad one but i still love it!! 5 stars
3/14/07 Brittany good movie very dramatic ending that kind of ruined the movie but i still love it a lot 5 stars
2/25/07 pOisOned heArT has a greay message in it AwEsOmE 5 stars
2/23/07 Weblynx sad, and i have always remembered that way of thinking since watching it 5 stars
2/18/07 Nick Maday I loved it! Until the end, that is. The end really killed the movie for me. 2 stars
10/18/06 Dave M Awful Review. I loved it. It is sappy though! 5 stars
9/24/06 Dewi K. Utama The ending shows hope that community also has will to better the world that Trevor had 5 stars
6/12/06 Levi A Good Plot and good acting but a VERY sad ending 5 stars
5/30/06 bobenhiemer not the best of movies 2 stars
4/04/06 Amanda Hunselman I strongly advise people to take this movie seriously 4 stars
12/18/05 Chris Karr One great movie! Almost all the actors deserved Oscars as well as the end song! 5 stars
12/10/05 Michael Very sharp beginning, then it collapse on its own lack of morality. 4 stars
9/22/05 R.W. Welch Intriguing at the start, but gets pretty sudsy. 3 stars
9/19/05 Jacklyn Jade L. Lao nice,interesting 5 stars
8/31/05 Captain Craig Great concept. NO lickable characters..except maybe the kid.Bad screenplay and direction. 2 stars
8/17/05 ES Spacey is a wuss, his character actually had a terriblly done scene to make him look tough 1 stars
7/17/05 christie kind of sappy but greatacting 4 stars
5/28/05 Aneta To jest najbardziej wzruszający film jaki kiedykolwiek widziałam 5 stars
3/31/05 Nick Boyd Great acting and premise marred by a bad endingI 4 stars
3/22/05 Naka Nope. Good messege, but it ain't enough. 1 stars
3/14/05 Brendan excellent 5 stars
3/08/05 Jo Deeply touched, don't care what others say! :P 5 stars
12/01/04 Annie The movie really moved me 5 stars
9/10/04 John Aster Habig a tear fest and a reinforcer of man's good side 5 stars
5/24/04 Jorge Fernandito Reyvaldo G A good film,but the ending was fucking crazy and very retarded 3 stars
5/18/04 C Merryweather Powerful for my students - a thought provoker! 5 stars
4/21/04 Lim Wei Hong A very touching and inspirational movie, despite having a sad ending. 4 stars
3/09/04 Jaco Visser A very touching and morally correct film! Inspiring past words. 5 stars
2/23/04 hi ok 4 stars
12/24/03 Snickerdoodle Kind of sappy and the ending really sucks. 2 stars
10/24/03 Kae Very emotional, but good, HJO is a very talented child! 5 stars
9/22/03 John Bale Somewhat sanitised modern fable well enough acted out to hold interest. 4 stars
9/21/03 Sarah This fi;m moved me in a way no other has 5 stars
9/08/03 Kyle Spacey and Hunt are both great! Didn't like the way it ended though. 4 stars
8/17/03 Lorraine I love this film - it makes me believe I should be a better person 5 stars
8/13/03 It's just me Makes you think...Haley has done it again! 5 stars
8/08/03 Kristan Be patient. Stick with it. Movie like life. It's a gift. 5 stars
8/05/03 Jin way too much emotional turmoil here. intriguing though. 3 stars
7/23/03 natasha_theobald sours my stomach just to think about it 2 stars
6/11/03 BlackTerror surprisingly 5 stars
6/05/03 Demydenko Stanislav Excellent 5 stars
4/09/03 Matt Thiel The ending says "If you help people, you will die." HUH? 3 stars
4/01/03 Jack Sommersby More tolerable than expected. 3 stars
3/29/03 bOmbsz16 its okay; quite boring though... the end is weak, who immediately dies from a stab? 3 stars
1/16/03 Joe A Total Sap & Crap Fest with a realy bad "Twist" Ending 1 stars
10/29/02 Brittney Williams I loved it!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
10/07/02 TheOthersFan "I see dead people I see nice people you're my mummy" 2 stars
7/27/02 karen goldstein i liked it just for the love story line - rest of the stuff was crap esp. the ending 3 stars
7/24/02 TheChronic sweet movie, the subject matter is definitely worth while 4 stars
6/30/02 Jim OMG what was up with that ending? Helen Hunt is a hottie though. 4 stars
6/22/02 Bart Horrid ending. Ruined the film for me. 2 stars
6/07/02 stud A NICE FAMILY FILM 5 stars
2/19/02 Shotglasskid I usually don't go for the heavy drama's but I thought the performances & movie were great. 5 stars
2/16/02 Butterbean Hunt plays the blandest alcoholic single mother on film. Flick is good, Hunt was blahhh. 4 stars
2/02/02 Tzila Seewald It is so good it's make me cry! It's teach me to be good other people 5 stars
1/14/02 Flick Chick very disappointing 2 stars
1/11/02 max zhang sappy but simple; good for non-English speaking viewers with no concept of the real America 3 stars
1/08/02 sean more further spiritual thing may be better 4 stars
1/06/02 Matt Utt This movie fucking sucks ass. I would rather watch four guys butt-fuck each other 1 stars
12/04/01 Bada Bing Crosby Can't believe Spacey & Hunt got to me; I HATE THEM but not in this almost-great flick 4 stars
10/02/01 Andrew Carden Pretty Disappointing, Bad Acting. 2 stars
6/27/01 Artist Freak Flawed bu enjoyable, good performances, movies like this are too rare. End music sucked. 4 stars
6/22/01 brentley Good plot idea, but the movie could've been better. Ending sucked. 3 stars
6/09/01 Turtle This movie had a couple of continuity mix-ups, but other than that, it was great. 4 stars
5/30/01 Thatguy I see lame people.... they're talking about morals, and righteousness... I'm puking... 1 stars
5/30/01 Monday Morning OK up to the ending -- so heavy handed it ruins the whole thing. 2 stars
5/10/01 *~Danielle*Ophelia~* (formerly KyLe*BrOfLoVsKi) A jambalaya of juggernauts in a film that's essentially a jinx. 2 stars
2/28/01 Anthony The movie has a message for people with a soul. The book is even better. 4 stars
2/18/01 Tom Beatty Made me think, but too saccharine 4 stars
2/04/01 Diego Romero You know Haley´s career is already dead right? 1 stars
2/01/01 Matthew Bartley Was I supposed to laugh when he gets stabbed and dies? 2 stars
1/22/01 Peter Taylor Don't be so cynical - its a good film, and a good ideal 5 stars
12/19/00 Tim Spacey,Hunt and Osment make this a good movie that might have sucked with other actors 4 stars
12/02/00 Angela Murtagh It's about time we had agood movie these days-I would see it again-wear waterproof mascarar 5 stars
11/29/00 William Bell Terrible in every imaginable way. 1 stars
11/11/00 spork-girl as sappy goes, this movie ruled. no misrepresentation, no dissapointment 5 stars
11/10/00 James Extraordinary acted,not a good story! 3 stars
10/31/00 Philm Phreak Sucko! 2 stars
10/31/00 Paul Emmons Your review: bull's eye. Without Spacey & Osment I'd rate it much lower 4 stars
10/28/00 cretaceous All it really needed was a car chase to be truly wretched, but it came very, very close. 2 stars
10/26/00 Marc Spacey turns in another startlingly beautiful performance... 5 stars
10/26/00 annice burdeos a bit of a disappoinment.I never believed Helen Hunt as an alcholic. Osment at times seemed 3 stars
10/25/00 emma i like thinking and feeling for myself, thank you very much. stupid and manipulative 1 stars
10/25/00 Katsat Clunky, leaden, never believable, acting wasted,terrible screenplay, editing, directing 2 stars
10/24/00 Starchild Although it jumps around, this was a really good film. The Acting, I believe, will save it. 4 stars
10/24/00 Philip Mole Manipulative Hollywood Twaddle 1 stars
10/22/00 Jenny-My-Fur Spacey is a god, this movie is incredible, it just screams out OSCAR! 5 stars
10/17/00 Suzl4 A good warm movie until the end then bring on the tears. Spacey & Osment RULE!! 4 stars
10/09/00 frank the performances are good, but the overall story (and the ending) SUCK. 2 stars
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  20-Oct-2000 (PG-13)


  22-Feb-2001 (PG)

Directed by
  Mimi Leder

Written by
  Leslie Dixon

  Kevin Spacey
  Haley Joel Osment
  Helen Hunt
  Jon Bon Jovi
  Jay Mohr
  Angie Dickinson

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