Between The Sixth Sense and the spanking-new Pay It Forward, Haley Joel Osment has pretty much captured the market for portraying young boys bearing unusually heavy loads of human suffering.His whispery voice, often delivering lines as if he is on the verge of weeping, suggests a child who has seen far more of the fallen world than have many adults.In Pay It Forward, Osment plays what has become a painfully familiar character in contemporary America. His Trevor McKinney is the son of alcoholic parents who does what he can to protect his mother (Helen Hunt) from her abusive ex-husband (Jon Bon Jovi). Their lives are transformed, however, by Gene Simonet (Kevin Spacey), the sort of teacher who can change a student's worldview and is remembered fondly for decades afterward.Simonet's assignment is concise but demanding: Think of an idea to change our world—and put it into action.Trevor's "pay it forward" idea is to keep compassion moving—multiplying a blessing by helping three other people without fanfare. If those three people help another three people, who help another three people, before long one act of kindness can touch hundreds of lives.Through much of the film, Trevor feels as though his idea is a failure, which is one of many realistic touches included in the script based on Catherine Ryan Hyde's novel. Mimi Leder (ER, The Peacemaker, Deep Impact) tells CT that the script came to her attention after she took an 18-month break from business to spend time with her family."I read it and I immediately said, 'I am going to make this movie. I have to make it,' " Leder says.While the film does not promote an explicitly spiritual vision, it encourages the sort of generosity found throughout Scripture."The film encourages people to be brave, to think about people other than themselves for a change," Leder says. "It takes as much work to be selfish and miserable as it takes to be selfless."The message of Pay It Forward, which is as simple as "Love one another," is timeless, but some current social trends did give the project an added urgency."The country is in such a state with so much violence and guns and drugs. The country is in trouble. I thought this would be a good way to help it a little," she says. "It's a great philosophy to live by. I think the world would be a better place if people did live by it."If Trevor's idea sounds like mere "random acts of kindness," only as demanding as placing a quarter in an expired parking meter, think again: The first act of "paying it forward" in this film involves a man giving away his expensive sports car to a perfect stranger."A lot of people talk about humanity and don't do a thing about it," Leder says. "It's not so easy to do this, but it's not so hard to do it either. It takes some effort, it takes some thought, and it takes a strong belief in humanity."Pay It Forward asserts a deeply moving idealism, but its "just do it" message may not last more than a few days for the typical moviegoer. In major cities, simply driving home from the cinema will be enough to break the spell. Ironically, Christians who believe that human effort and thought are insufficient because of human fallenness have a better history of loving their neighbors, albeit with tough love. But given the often narcissistic state of modern America, Pay It Forward is a praiseworthy effort at jarring us into a different way of living.

Related Elsewhere

Steve Lansingh also reviewed the film for Christianity Today.Visit the official Pay it Forward movie site. Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and Haley Joel Osmet all have tons of fan sites, but these are among the most "official."Read Entertainment Weekly's spin on the movie, or a whole heap of mainstream reviews at learn more about Cartherine Ryan Hyde, author of Pay it Forward, visit her homepage, which offers information about her life and books.Read the Denver Post's book review of Pay It Forward.Read " Five Singing Gardeners," a short story by Ryan Hyde.

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Average Rating
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Directed By
Mimi Leder
Run Time
2 hours 3 minutes
Kevin Spacey, Haley Joel Osment, Helen Hunt
Theatre Release
October 20, 2000
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