Get ready to cry...
Andrew Ellington | I'm kind of everywhere | 03/02/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This movie is pure sentimental saccharine schmaltz, in the line of Ron Howard yet not as effective or as expertly handled, but I still gobble it up like it were peach cobbler and sob like a baby who lost his binky. I mean, this movie is simultaneously forced and honest, and that is thanks to the splendid acting and the contrived script.
The base prose for `Pay it Forward' is quite simple. A young kid with bid ideas finds that his new teacher has motivated him to put into play a plan that could alter the face of the world. Asked to come up with an idea that could change the world, young Trevor decides that if he were to do something to help three people and those three people helped three other people (and so on and so forth) then the world could be a better place for everyone. Trevor immediately sets his sights on his mother, an alcoholic struggling to take care of her son, and a junkie in need of a fresh start.
Where the film goes wrong, for me, is in trying to make too much of this `idea'. The idea should have been a metaphor for what young Trevor was experiencing at home, in his life, struggling to find something better and pay himself forward so-to-speak. The film tries to go that way in parts (the natural development of his mother, played brilliantly by Helen Hunt, is one thing this film nails) but the way it handles the phenomenon that this idea became kind of relinquishes the effect it should have had to a mere punch line. It loses a lot of its weight and emotional power by spreading it too thin.
Yes, the ending is crafted for the sole purpose of bleeding your tear ducts, but I wouldn't have changed it.
The best thing about this film is, by far, the performances. Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osment have all been better, but that doesn't mean that they don't work this material over very well here. Osment has to kind of carry the film, for he needs to sell us on his childlike innocence as well as his matured sense of understanding, and he does so beautifully. Kevin Spacey is an actor who I really like, a lot. He manages to take a gimmicky character (burn victim/inspirational teacher) and make him human (that whole "my father" scene just broke my heart). But, just like in `As Good As It Gets', best in show awards can be showered upon only one person, and that is Helen Hunt. She is outstanding as Trevor's emotionally unstable mother. Her frailties are beautifully tempered by her overly assertive sense of strength. She tries so hard and yet falls so far, and it is seen all over the creases in her face.
The film is as schmaltzy as they come, and it doesn't try to hide that fact. It is designed to do one thing, make you cry, and it does that with ease. I would have loved this subject to have been dissected and tackled with a little more earnest grit (and honest realism), since the performances truly deserved it, but in the end I am more than satisfied with the way this film pans out."