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Pay It Forward

-by Andrew Goletz and Erich Schoeneweiss

This is a tough film to write about. [AG: Even tougher to sit through] I can't quite put my finger on why it is so difficult for me to write about this except, I must admit it is very difficult to discuss this movie without talking about the last 15 minutes. Some, like Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum  have blatantly given the ending away (read my upcoming column for more on this blasphemous act).  I will say this: the film does not work emotionally or logically without the aliens invading the earth in the last fifteen minutes (oops, sorry!) [AG: Haha. That was pretty funny, E]. Ok, on to the film. [AG: Please, no! I don’t want to be reminded!] Child wunderkind Haley Joel Osment (you know we're going to be reading about this kid strung out on crack and crystal meth in about eight years) plays Trevor McKinney, a weary, somewhat disillusioned seventh grader.  His mom, Arlene McKinney (a sexy, yet at times frightening looking Helen Hunt), is an alcoholic who must hide bottles of booze from Trevor because she has promised him over and over she has quit drinking. She works the casinos and strip clubs of Vegas as a cocktail waitress to try to support her addiction and her son.  Trevor has few friends, those he has are small and constantly beaten upon by bullies.  Mostly, Trevor is alone and not very enthused by the world around him.  That is until Eugene Simonet, a physically and emotionally scarred Kevin Spacey, enters his life as his new Social Studies teacher.  The assignment, if they choose to accept it, is to find a way in which they can interact with the world and try to make it a better place. Thus, Pay It Forward is born.  [AG: Erich makes this movie sound almost interesting at this point. In fact, this is one of the movies I was most looking forward to seeing. You’d think after The Blair Witch Project and Dogma, I’d learn my lesson? There’s really nothing more for me to comment on about the set-up, as he gave you the gist of the story, but I will say that I don’t remember a cast this talented being wasted this much since…well, ever. Three Oscar caliber actors, four if you count Jim Cazzievelli]

Trevor devises a plan by which he will help three people with something big, something that they can not do for themselves.  In turn, they must help three people. And so on, and so on…you get the picture.  A noble idea that is also somewhat self serving, as Trevor sticks pretty close to home with his choices. The film can be looked at as extremely righteous.  We all need to be nicer and look out for our common man, blah, blah, blah.  On this level, it bored the hell out of me. [AG: I didn’t mind the preachiness of the film. I thought it was a noble idea, but the movie doesn’t spend that much time developing the idea of paying it forward or the ramifications it has on people. We get small glimpses of how it affects people’s lives. I think this was really more the story about Simonet’s redemption than anything else. Without giving too much away, Simonet is the most developed character and the scars run deeper than what one can see on his body. Fine. But that’s an entirely different movie and the clichéd revelations throughout the film make one tend to groan more than anything]  If that's what I had wanted I would have stayed home and watched PAX TV.  The film is also loaded with cliches and stereotypes. One look at Helen Hunt's character and we know who and where she's been. Kevin Spacey's teacher looks like he's been dipped in a vat of wax and left to dry. 

His character is even more obvious, I was waiting for his big emotional "I know more than you do because this is what happened to me" speech, and oh boy do we get it.

Ironically though, the best part of the film (aside from the laugh I got when John Bon Jovi shows up) is the relationship between Arlene and Eugene (man, I just realized how retarded their names sound together).  I believed in it.  I've talked to some who felt that they didn't have any chemistry, but I believe the two really worked together and I believe that she would and could find a man as scarred as he is attractive after all the other horrible men she had been with over the years. 

Is this an Oscar caliber film?  [AG:If this was the only film that came out this year it still wouldn’t be an Oscar contender] If it's a weak year (and so far it has been), than yes.  But the performances were not as complex and award worthy as the three actors past work (with the possible exception of Osment who has now Paid It Forward twice for that piece of crap Bogus he made in his youth).  There will be five better Best Picture possibilities and Mimi Leder's direction allowed the film to amble at times.  The film should have been tighter and about 20 minutes shorter [AG: More like an hour shorter]. I recommend waiting for video, [AG: and fast-forward through all this crap on your own] in return you must Pay It Forward by telling three friends to wait for video also.

Back to work….

Pay It Forward: Andrew- 1.5 Griffins (out of 4)

Pay It Forward: Erich- 2.5 Griffins (out of 4)

GHM Avg: 2 Griffins (out of 4)

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