PAY IT FORWARD
Reviewed July 11th, 2001 by David Nusair
Based on a popular novel, Pay it Forward is incredibly non-cynical (and in this day and age, that's really something).
Haley Joel Osment stars as Trevor, a shy kid just starting the seventh grade. During his first social studies class, his new teacher (Kevin Spacey) assigns an unusual project - he tells his students that, by the end of the semester, an attempt should be made to change theworld. Spacey is just expecting them to set up recycling programs and stop littering - but Trevor has bigger plans. His “pay it forward” idea is based on the concept of showing kindness to strangers. You do a favor for three strangers, those three strangers do three more favors, and so on. One of Trevor's own favors is to his mother (played by Helen Hunt), who he feels has been alone for far too long. He sets her up with Spacey's character, a burn victim who's never let anyone close.
Pay it Forward is consistently entertaining - though occasionally marred by heavy-handedness - anchored by excellent performances (even Jon Bon Jovi, who has a small role as Hunt's ex-wife, is good here). Spacey, in particular, is especially good, playing the scarred - emotionally and physically - teacher that has lived a certain routine for so long, that when a change (no matter that it's a good one) comes along, his first impulse is to shun it. Osment - whose restrained performance in The Sixth Sense outshone even Bruce Willis - is once again quite good as the ambitious young kid who's unusual idea eventually turns him into a martyr. The only real drawback to this otherwise well done film is the ending. It's needlessly depressing, and essentially ruins all the progress the main characters made throughout the film.
Audio: Pay it Forward is presented with a DD 5.1 soundtrack and it really sounds quite good. Dialogue comes across loud and clear, without kowtowing to ambient sounds. Similarly, ambiant sounds are nicely spread throughout the front and rear channels. And the music track, which mostly consists of piano work, sounds stunning.
Video: This anamophic 1.85:1 transfer is, not surprisingly, excellent. This is the kind of quality we've come to expect from Warners. The print is pristine and the picture is completely devoid of artifacts and grain. While the audio isn't exactly demo material, this image is. This is exactly how a new movie should look when transferred to DVD.
Extras: While not an all-out special edition, there are a few good extras. There is a 12-minute HBO first-look special, which, while way too short, is quite interesting. There's also a commentary track with director Mimi Leder. While this too is interesting, there's maybe 30 minutes of actual content (and this is a 2 hour + film). Leder spends entire scenes not saying a word. But when she does speak, she has a lot to say. From little details - her husband and daughter both have pivotal roles - the track generally feels as though you are watching the flick with her. And she doesn't resort to explaining sequences as they play out as other directors tend to do (Taylor Hackford, on The Devil's Advocate, is especially guilty of this). There are some cast filmographies (which are kind of useless, considering how much more detailed the IMDb is). Finally, there is an anamorphic trailer.
Conclusion: Pay it Forward is the kind of realistic, almost corny film that rarely gets made nowadays. Warner Bros. has put together a fine presentation for this underrated little flick.
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