(out of 5)
Horrendously cheesy film, its excellent performance by Helen Hunt swamped by directionless direction by Mimi Leder and a hackneyed screenplay. The plot follows the plight of a troubled and shy young boy (Haley Joel Osment, his first post-Academy Award nomination role) who is given an assignment at school to change the world by his burn-scarred seventh grade teacher (Kevin Spacey in a disappointingly melodramatic performance). His idea is to do something generous for somebody, in the best case a stranger, who is then instructed to pay the kindness forward to three people instead of paying the donor back. The film’s alternate plot follows Jay Mohr as he tries to work his way backwards through the story to find out who it was that originated the Pay It Forward movement; despite Mohr’s noted talent, this subplot is so boring that you just want to close your eyes and stick your fingers in your ears every time the film goes in his direction. Hunt’s lyrical performance as Osment’s mother truly is the film’s one reward, and any time she’s left alone with any of the characters is the only time you feel any genuine, non-manipulating emotion coming your way. However, her role is so close to that in her Academy Award-winning performance in As Good As It Gets that most viewers will find they’re not getting anything too new out of it.
Directed by Mimi Leder
Cinematography by Oliver Stapleton
Music by Thomas Newman
Production Design by Leslie Dilley
Costume Design by Renee Ehrlich Kalfus
Film Editing by David Rosenbloom