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Tonight I considered watching G.W. Bush's first State of the Union address versus watching Pay It Forward. Should I watch a long indoctrination telling us that even though things may seem grim, it'll be a better world if we all pull together... or should I listen to the politicians? Let the fact of this review answer that question.
Yes, Pay It Forward is trying to tell you something. And what a collection of fatalistic characters to provide a background for bettering the world. We have the disfigured and cantankerous junior high teacher (Kevin Spacey), the alcoholic mother with a familial pattern of spousal abuse (Helen Hunt), the homeless guy, the thief, the suicidal woman, the jobless journalist and so on. The catalyst that gets things going is the precocious 7th grader, Trevor (Haley Joel Osment).
Does this not sound like the formula for alienating the audience? The thing is, it somehow works, and it does so by not cheating us. Things go wrong, nothing's perfect, and there are consequences to being unreasonable human beings. The story is interesting because it shows people reacting in a human way, making mistakes, and learning what to do about it. The film does get a bit sentimental, but it doesn't bet the farm on it.
A few threads of story are woven together here, and the strategy doesn't completely work, but it's not actually distracting. The soundtrack is reminiscent of American Beauty, which Pay It Forward seems to owe some inspiration, not only for Kevin Spacey, but thematically as well.
It doesn't factor in my scoring, but it was also amusing to see many Las Vegas locations familiar to me, including at least one place where I've stood in the same spot as the characters.
My final analysis does place this better than a largely political speech, so there's no regrets on my decision. Maybe if those speechwriters can start putting in some more plot...
Full profile for Pay It Forward
Offsite info: Internet Movie Database
Review: Deeper than expected 7/10 mastadonfarm
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