October 26, 2000

Pay for the Stars, Not the Script

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While the front page of this newspaper is often laden with reports of gruesome confrontations in the Middle East, unfortunate acts of racial prejudice on our campus, and grim presidential candidates that offer little hope for the future of our country, it almost made me happy to report on Pay It Forward, a movie that had the potential to reinstill faith in human nature and mankind.

Notice that I say “almost,” for all possibility of hope that was built up throughout the film was completely crushed in the last few minutes. This movie, in theory, could have turned out great, but its ending entirely precluded that from happening.

Haley Joel Osment (Sixth Sense) is Trevor McKinney, an 11-year-old with an assignment from scar-burned teacher Eugene Simonet (Kevin Spacey) to think of a way to change the world and implement it. Trevor, an apt and precocious student, conceives “pay it forward” — his idea to do good deeds that will change the lives of three people. He then asks those three people not to pay it back to him, but rather to pay it forward and help three more people. And so on.

Of course, Trevor’s idea catches on, and “pay it forward” spreads across the country. What a surprise.

One of his three projects is Mr. Simonet, who he hopes to help with the aid of his alcoholic mom (Helen Hunt). Despite teased, bleach blonde hair and one too many inches of eye-liner, Hunt is one of the few beautiful enough to carry off the trailer park image with such grace. Spacey’s puttied make-up (reminiscent of The Man Without a Face) hides his face, in part detracting from his acting. His character is, as usual, ingeniously believable and endearing.

It doesn’t matter that much of Haley Joel Osment’s acting talent lies in his ability to purse his cute little lips, or that he’s become stereotyped as the little boy who knows more than his teacher and everyone in the audience. He is still almost as captivating as Spacey, and this is quite a feat for anyone, let alone a prepubescent boy.

Besides these phenomenal stars, Picture Perfect’s Jay Mohr and musician-turned-actor Jon Bon Jovi also comprise the cast.

Mohr’s performance as a reporter, tracking the fortune of Trevor’s endeavor was captivating and commendable. Bon Jovi’s, however, was a different story. Traditionally, celebrities in other professions that venture into acting have not had much success, and Bon Jovi is no exception, and being juxtaposed with the talented Helen Hunt didn’t help him.

Overall, the movie managed to disappoint. The plot is entangled with stories that are starting from the end and, in a sense, rewinding, coupled with parallel stories that are playing forward. This provides an interesting spin on stories that would otherwise be mediocre. That is, until the surprise ending, which I will not reveal despite the fact that it was a monumental disappointment, on both an emotional and critical level (I audibly gasped).

While a twist ending was no surprise from actor’s Osment and Spacey, it was a shock to me. It not only ruined the heartwarming, albeit cheesy quality the film seemed to possess, but it also managed to crush any hope I garnered from the film. And then it did little to rectify the situation. This movie ended on a down note, with no deeper justification.

With a cast like this, Pay It Forward had the potential to explode. And it did. Right back in their faces.

Archived article by Sara Katz