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Overall Rating

Awesome: 23.84%
Worth A Look26.49%
Just Average: 13.25%
Pretty Crappy26.49%
Sucks: 9.93%

9 reviews, 97 user ratings

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Pay It Forward
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by EricDSnider

"Maniuplative, but sort of nice about it."
4 stars

The end of "Pay it Forward" will make you cry. This is the movie's primary goal; it even leaves some things underdeveloped throughout the film in its haste to make sure the hankies come out in the last five minutes. How you'll feel about the crying all depends on how you feel about being manipulated.

Of course, in the purest sense of the word, manipulation is what movies are all about. Their goal is to draw you into the world they create, for you to believe in the characters, and for you to be affected therefore -- whether it be to laughter, to tears, or to inner reflection -- by what's going on. In this sense, manipulation is not a bad thing.

But usually, when something is described as being "manipulative," the connotation is that it's unfair or sneaky, that's it wresting emotions from you that it does not deserve. Building up a story with engaging characters that you care about and then having one of them fall ill is legitimate storytelling; throwing some people up on the screen and then arbitrarily afflicting one with cancer just to make you cry is manipulation.

"Pay it Forward" manipulates -- but again, only in the last several minutes. Up to that point, it's a glossy, well-acted story that is at least interesting, though it never quite plumbs the philosophical depths it wants to. It's like the feel-good Cliff's Notes version of "Utopia."

Kevin Spacey plays Eugene Simonet, a Las Vegas junior high school teacher who each year challenges his students to think of a way to make the world a better place, and then try to implement it. He never expects anyone to actually change the world; he merely wants them to think outside their comfort zones.

One of his students, Trevor McKinney (Haley Joel Osmoent), takes the assignment to heart and gives a homeless man some food and a place to stay the night. From this he develops an idea: What if you did a favor for three strangers, something that truly helped them that they couldn't do themselves? And what if after you did it, you told each person that they now had to do favors for three more strangers, who would each have to do something for three more strangers, and so on and so forth -- a "Mother Teresa conga line," as someone puts it.

One of Trevor's three targets is Mr. Simonet himself, a mousy man whose face is badly scarred. Trevor wants him to hook up with his mom, Arlene (Helen Hunt), who is working two jobs and occasionally drinking herself stupid, and who desperately needs someone to rescue her.

Simonet needs to be rescued, too, though that fact is more hinted at than demonstrated. The press notes say that Simonet is a meticulous man who keeps every aspect of his life neatly in order -- "every shirt, every pencil, every person in its proper place," they say. Thing is, the movie doesn't really show this. We get the idea that he lives alone and keeps to himself, but that's it.

Another underdeveloped theme is that the reason Trevor takes the assignment so seriously is that his own life is screwed up and he needs to find hope. Again, this is hinted at, but not fleshed out. It's plain that his relationship with Mom is imperfect, but there's no apparent connection between that and his sudden altruism simply because Simonet suggested it in class one day.

Helen Hunt is an able actress, but I never quite believed her as the hard-drinking, promiscuous trailer trash she's supposed to be in this film. She's too Helen Hunt-y and respectable to pull it off.

Spacey and Osment, though, are fantastic. We already knew Spacey was a brilliant actor, and he thoroughly BECOMES Mr. Simonet the way he usually assimilates himself into whomever he's playing. Osment has only had one other major role, though -- his Oscar-deserving turn in the now-legendary "Sixth Sense" -- and there was some question as to whether that was just a one-time fluke. The apparent answer is no, it wasn't. Though his character in "Pay it Forward" is not as legitimately tragic as it was in "Sixth Sense," he is still eminently sympathetic, playing another soulful role with his soulful eyes and honest-to-goodness acting ability.

Director Mimi Leder relies on the fact that we all want to believe that one person can change the world. I don't know that the film is ever completely sincere about this; it has a certain surface-level sheen to it that keeps you from trusting it entirely.

So as I cursed the film for making me cry when it had no right to, I was also grateful for having been manipulated by two of my favorite actors. Spacey and Osment can wrench a few tears out of me anytime they want. Being led by the nose was never so pleasant.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=3898&reviewer=247
originally posted: 07/05/03 03:16:27
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User Comments

3/24/18 morris campbell not bad has a nice message 4 stars
12/04/10 Steffy Don't care what everyone says, i loved everything! the movie had a really good message! 5 stars
8/11/09 the dork knight Remember kids, good people get shivved! Way to ruin your message, movie. 3 stars
2/05/09 bob horrible ending and the movie kinda dragged on and took the spotlight off the whole pay it 3 stars
10/26/08 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
7/29/08 the dork knight Preachy, sugar-coated crap with a decent performance by Spacey (his last, btw) 3 stars
3/03/08 Pamela White Awesome tale of a child's courage 5 stars
5/16/07 I'm Not Ok I Sweear This movie is a sad one but i still love it!! 5 stars
3/13/07 Brittany good movie very dramatic ending that kind of ruined the movie but i still love it a lot 5 stars
2/24/07 pOisOned heArT has a greay message in it AwEsOmE 5 stars
2/22/07 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
6/11/06 Levi A Good Plot and good acting but a VERY sad ending 5 stars
5/29/06 bobenhiemer not the best of movies 2 stars
4/03/06 Amanda Hunselman I strongly advise people to take this movie seriously 4 stars
12/17/05 Chris Karr One great movie! Almost all the actors deserved Oscars as well as the end song! 5 stars
12/09/05 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
8/30/05 Captain Craig Great concept. NO lickable characters..except maybe the kid.Bad screenplay and direction. 2 stars
8/16/05 ES Spacey is a wuss, his character actually had a terriblly done scene to make him look tough 1 stars
7/16/05 christie kind of sappy but greatacting 4 stars
5/28/05 Aneta To jest najbardziej wzruszający film jaki kiedykolwiek widziałam 5 stars
3/30/05 Nick Boyd Great acting and premise marred by a bad endingI 4 stars
3/21/05 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
11/30/04 Annie The movie really moved me 5 stars
9/09/04 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
5/17/04 C Merryweather Powerful for my students - a thought provoker! 5 stars
4/20/04 Lim Wei Hong A very touching and inspirational movie, despite having a sad ending. 4 stars
3/08/04 Jaco Visser A very touching and morally correct film! Inspiring past words. 5 stars
2/22/04 hi ok 4 stars
12/23/03 Snickerdoodle Kind of sappy and the ending really sucks. 2 stars
10/23/03 Kae Very emotional, but good, HJO is a very talented child! 5 stars
9/21/03 John Bale Somewhat sanitised modern fable well enough acted out to hold interest. 4 stars
9/20/03 Sarah This fi;m moved me in a way no other has 5 stars
9/07/03 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
8/12/03 It's just me Makes you think...Haley has done it again! 5 stars
8/07/03 Kristan Be patient. Stick with it. Movie like life. It's a gift. 5 stars
8/04/03 Jin way too much emotional turmoil here. intriguing though. 3 stars
7/22/03 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
4/08/03 Matt Thiel The ending says "If you help people, you will die." HUH? 3 stars
3/31/03 Jack Sommersby More tolerable than expected. 3 stars
3/28/03 bOmbsz16 its okay; quite boring though... the end is weak, who immediately dies from a stab? 3 stars
1/15/03 Joe A Total Sap & Crap Fest with a realy bad "Twist" Ending 1 stars
10/28/02 Brittney Williams I loved it!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
10/06/02 TheOthersFan "I see dead people I see nice people you're my mummy" 2 stars
7/26/02 karen goldstein i liked it just for the love story line - rest of the stuff was crap esp. the ending 3 stars
7/23/02 TheChronic sweet movie, the subject matter is definitely worth while 4 stars
6/29/02 Jim OMG what was up with that ending? Helen Hunt is a hottie though. 4 stars
6/21/02 Bart Horrid ending. Ruined the film for me. 2 stars
6/06/02 stud A NICE FAMILY FILM 5 stars
2/18/02 Shotglasskid I usually don't go for the heavy drama's but I thought the performances & movie were great. 5 stars
2/15/02 Butterbean Hunt plays the blandest alcoholic single mother on film. Flick is good, Hunt was blahhh. 4 stars
2/01/02 Tzila Seewald It is so good it's make me cry! It's teach me to be good other people 5 stars
1/13/02 Flick Chick very disappointing 2 stars
1/10/02 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
1/05/02 Matt Utt This movie fucking sucks ass. I would rather watch four guys butt-fuck each other 1 stars
12/03/01 Bada Bing Crosby Can't believe Spacey & Hunt got to me; I HATE THEM but not in this almost-great flick 4 stars
10/01/01 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
6/21/01 brentley Good plot idea, but the movie could've been better. Ending sucked. 3 stars
6/08/01 Turtle This movie had a couple of continuity mix-ups, but other than that, it was great. 4 stars
5/29/01 Thatguy I see lame people.... they're talking about morals, and righteousness... I'm puking... 1 stars
5/29/01 Monday Morning OK up to the ending -- so heavy handed it ruins the whole thing. 2 stars
5/09/01 *~Danielle*Ophelia~* (formerly KyLe*BrOfLoVsKi) A jambalaya of juggernauts in a film that's essentially a jinx. 2 stars
2/27/01 Anthony The movie has a message for people with a soul. The book is even better. 4 stars
2/17/01 Tom Beatty Made me think, but too saccharine 4 stars
2/03/01 Diego Romero You know Haley´s career is already dead right? 1 stars
1/31/01 Matthew Bartley Was I supposed to laugh when he gets stabbed and dies? 2 stars
1/21/01 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
12/01/00 Angela Murtagh It's about time we had agood movie these days-I would see it again-wear waterproof mascarar 5 stars
11/28/00 William Bell Terrible in every imaginable way. 1 stars
11/10/00 spork-girl as sappy goes, this movie ruled. no misrepresentation, no dissapointment 5 stars
11/09/00 James Extraordinary acted,not a good story! 3 stars
10/30/00 Philm Phreak Sucko! 2 stars
10/30/00 Paul Emmons Your review: bull's eye. Without Spacey & Osment I'd rate it much lower 4 stars
10/27/00 cretaceous All it really needed was a car chase to be truly wretched, but it came very, very close. 2 stars
10/25/00 Marc Spacey turns in another startlingly beautiful performance... 5 stars
10/25/00 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
10/24/00 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
10/23/00 Philip Mole Manipulative Hollywood Twaddle 1 stars
10/21/00 Jenny-My-Fur Spacey is a god, this movie is incredible, it just screams out OSCAR! 5 stars
10/16/00 Suzl4 A good warm movie until the end then bring on the tears. Spacey & Osment RULE!! 4 stars
10/08/00 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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