Saturday, May 10, 2008

Pay It Forward

Pay It Forward (2000)

Director: Mimi Leder
Writers: Catherine Ryan Hyde (book); Leslie Dixon (screenplay)
Starring: Kevin Spacey (Eugene Simonet), Helen Hunt (Arlene McKinney), Haley Joel Osment (Trevor McKinney), Jay Mohr (Chris Chandler), James Caviezel (Jerry), Jon Bon Jovi (Ricky McKinney)

“‘Pay It Forward’ is a book written by Catherine Ryan Hyde, but it's also an idea. It's an action plan within a work of fiction. But does it have to be fiction? We're hoping not. In fact, since the book was released in January of 2000, a real-life social movement has emerged, not just in the U.S. but worldwide. What began as a work of fiction has already become much more.
“Reuben St. Clair, the teacher and protagonist in the book Pay It Forward, starts a movement with this voluntary, extra-credit assignment: THINK OF AN IDEA FOR WORLD CHANGE, AND PUT IT INTO ACTION. Trevor, the 12-year-old hero of Pay It Forward, thinks of quite an idea. He describes it to his mother and teacher this way: "You see, I do something real good for three people. And then when they ask how they can pay it back, I say they have to Pay It Forward. To three more people. Each. So nine people get helped. Then those people have to do twenty-seven." He turned on the calculator, punched in a few numbers. "Then it sort of spreads out, see. To eighty-one. Then two hundred forty-three. Then seven hundred twenty-nine. Then two thousand, one hundred eighty-seven. See how big it gets?"”
This is how the welcome section of the site, begins. The site explains: "The Pay It Forward Foundation was established in September 2000 by author Catherine Ryan Hyde and others to educate and inspire students to realize that they can change the world, and provide them with opportunities to do so. By bringing the author's vision and related materials into classrooms internationally, students and their teachers are encouraged to formulate their own ideas of how they can pay it forward."

This is not however about the foundation and the good work they are doing. It's about the movie, Pay It Forward, directed by Mimi Leder, staring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osment, that I stumbled upon HBO the other day.
As I was flipping through the channel, I saw Haley Joel Osment on the screen and paused for a while. Where is this guy now? He is a wonderful actor, and gave us some wonderful films. 'The Sixth Sense' apart, there was memorable 'Second Hand Lions' with Robert Duvall and Michael Caine. But where is he now? He turns 20 this year.
Anyway, I paused to see him talking to Jim Caviezel, another wonderful actor (Jesus of 'The Passion of Christ') who has not gotten his due, and I was hooked. I had to watch the film till it was over. No, I don't want to reveal the end. It's a happy-ending nonetheless. If it were otherwise, I wouldn't be writing this.
In a sense, the film is about childhood, and how it affects our lives, and how we can get it right only with a childlike belief. Arlene is the victim of a traumatic childhood, with her mother being a alcoholic, so she takes to drinks herself, gets married to another drunkard (Jon Bon Jovi in a minuscule role). Then Trevor is born, who is traumatised himself. Now, when Trevor is around 12, Arlene is trying to get sober, trying to get over her relationship, and it's not exactly working.
In school, Trevor's social studies teacher Eugene, who has a major burn scar on his face and neck, tells him to think of a practical way to change the lives of people around them. Trevor comes up with the idea of Pay It Forward. (Okay, we aren't discussing the feasibility and importance of the idea!). He starts with Jerry. Then he tries to hook up Eugene with his mother, that's were the drama starts, as we come to know that Eugene is also a victim of child abuse, and both Arlene and he must help each other to find happiness, despite their apprehensions.
The film may sound simplistic, and in a way it is, but it boasts of a big heart, which ultimately makes up for the flaws.
This is a film that makes us pause and think, and that should be a good enough reason to make it a must watch.

Rating **** out of *****

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