If a film cast consists of two Academy Award winners and one Academy Award nominee, what do you get? A film with Oscar potential, right? Right!
Pay It Forward is that film. After all, the cast includes Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and the little kid who saw dead people in The Sixth Sense, Haley Joel Osment. Spacey stars as Eugene Simonet, a 7th grade teacher who bears the scars of a tragic boyhood event. His past is not an issue he wishes to address though, as on the first day of class, amid the stares he receives from the curious students, he tells the students that they can – if willing – change the world. With this, he gives the students a yearlong assignment: if you see something you don’t like in the world, take action and change it.
Young Trevor McKinney (Osment), takes this seriously and comes up with the theory of “pay it forward.” If one person does a good deed to three people, those three in turn must do good to three others, who in turn will do good to three other people thereby creating a chain reaction and allowing for the world to not be such a “shitty place.” The first person he tries this on is a homeless man, bringing him home for a warm dinner. In the morning, when his mother Arlene (Hunt) discovers the man in the kitchen, she kicks him out and deepens the divide that exists between her and Trevor.
Arlene’s bleach blonde hair, tan body, and revealing clothes extenuate the character, as does the Las Vegas location. The audience empathizes with her as she recovers from alcoholism, clings onto two jobs, and tries to bring Trevor up.
The beginning of the movie drags, but slowly, the viewer is drawn into the characters: the layers of each character are peeled away, until finally, all that remains is the person, true and very vulnerable. This full confrontation is quite shocking to the viewer.
Spacey plays Mr. Simonet terrifically. He adds the right element of awkwardness associated with seventh grade. As he sees himself in Trevor, he reaches out to him and plays the part of a father, while still trying to be his teacher. Osment, as inThe Sixth Sense, brings maturity to his role. Trevor is far maturer than the average 11-year-old boy. Hopefully, this won’t be the last time we will see Spacey and Osment together. Their sense of maturity and the complexity they bring to their roles greatly complement each other.
Be prepared to bring some tissues though: In parts of the movie, as you finally get a glimpse of the true characters, you can’t help but cry out. This is definitely a movie that will elicit responses from the audience.