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B-
Directed by Mimi Leder
Running Time: 2:01
Rated PG-13 for mature elements: substance abuse/recovery,
some sexual situations, language and brief violence.

Pay It Forward had some great performances, but the story itself felt contrived and wasn't as strong as I had hoped. But the acting of Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osment made up for any script shortcomings, with all three destined to be nominated come award season.

Spacey plays Eugene Simonet, a 7th grade social studies teacher. On the first day of class, he challenges his students to come up with an idea that will change the world. While to come this means trying to get all the kids in China to jump up and down at the same time, to Trevor McKinney (Haley Joel Osment) it means trying to change his world for the better. He comes up with the idea of Pay It Forward. What it means is when someone does something good for you, instead of paying them back, go out and pay it forward to three strangers. Trevor chooses a bum he finds on the street, his teacher Mr. Simonet, and one of his friends in school. He finds out that helping people isn't as easy as you might think, but that within the heart of everyone, there is a need to help. The one person who takes Pay It Forward to heart, is his mother Arlene (Helen Hunt), who is an alcoholic. Seeing the goodness in her son's heart makes her want to forgive her own mother, and try and stop drinking. It also bring her and Mr. Simonet together. Mr. Simonet has his own demons he needs to get rid of, and with young Trevor's help, he might be able to finally lose the fear that he has.

As I said earlier, the real joy of this film is watching three amazing actors work with each other. It was kind of the same feeling I had when I saw De Niro and Pacino in Heat, or Spacey and Jackson in The Negotiator. Both those movies were great, not because of the story, but because of the quality and power of the actors. Pay It Forward is much the same. At times the movie gets bogged down in trying to make you cry, or trying to tug at your heart. There are some down points, and some unnecessary parts. I got the feeling that there was a lot more to this movie that was never shown, probably due to time constraints. Which is sad because I would have liked seeing more interaction between the actors.

When I first saw Haley Joel Osment, it was probably as the young Forrest in Forrest Gump. He was very cute but didn't have a whole lot to say. Then I remember seeing him in the Jeff Foxworthy show, and I remember thinking he was a horrible actor. But between then and The Sixth Sense, he has come in to his own very quickly. In The Sixth Sense he basically had to be afraid the entire time. In Pay It Forward he has the chance to go through a huge range of emotions, from the excitement of seeing his mother and Mr. Simonet together, to the sorrow of finding his mother passed out in bed, to the fright of having his father come back in to town, to the anger of his mother yelling at him. For a 12 year old he has an amazing range and basically has the child actor market cornered.

Helen Hunt has another solid turn as the alcoholic mother who works two jobs (including one at a strip joint) who is trying to raise her kid, but always feels the need to turn to the bottle for help. She has come a long way from the cheesy humor of Mad About You, a show which I thought never really used the comedic talents of either her or Paul Reiser. Coming off her Academy award winning turn in As Good As It Gets, I'm positive she'll get another nomination for this role. Her character goes through a slow turn from someone who needs alcohol just to get through the day, to someone who sees how her actions affect her child, and how she needs to be in control of herself to make her own life happier than what it has been. A very good job all around.

Then of course there is Kevin Spacey. There's not much I can say here that hasn't already been said about this amazing actor. Easily one of the greatest actors living today. I remember first seeing him in the old TV show Wiseguy and thinking he was good back then. And ever since he has become more and more powerful in his acting. With some great actors after a while you get the feeling they're not trying anymore. I enjoyed Nicholson in As Good As It Gets, but I thought it was just Jack being Jack. Spacey has always tried to improve himself. Working with other talented actors to try and make himself a little better. Here he gets the opportunity to work with Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osment, both actors that can hold their own on the screen. His character has burns all over his face and body, and the reason for that is the thing that hold him back from really opening up to people. He has his routines, and that's all he knows. He's afraid of letting other people in, and it's pay it forward that finally allows him to not be scared anymore. Spacey has a quiet power surrounding his acting, and when he finally explodes you can't take your eyes off of him.

The ending of the movie was one thing that really made the movie seem over the top. It was something of a surprise, I certainly didn't see it coming (and neither did the one old woman to my right who I thought had stopped breathing). But the last scenes of the movie were a little too... schmaltzy? Cheesy? While there were other scenes in the movie that were also a little out there, the ending I thought really hurt the quality of the film. It was a nice idea, but all it was there to do was to try and make you cry. Overall the idea of Pay It Forward was good, but it was the acting that made it great. Not something you have to see on the big screen, but something you should see if you're a fan of great acting.

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