Pay it Forward (2000) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
this film was in the process of being released, it was being trumpeted
as a strong Oscar candidate. Something went wrong along the way. Some
critics liked it, some people talked it up, but the general consensus
was that it was nothing but orchestrated mush.
I agree with that up to a point.
I believe they had a beautiful seed for a movie, but didn't cultivate it properly.
It has some real strengths.
|The script was clever in some ways. It is told both forward and backward. Osment devises the pay-it-forward system in a Las Vegas classroom. The idea is that one must do a good deed for three other people with no other condition other than that they have to do the same for three other people. Somewhere in the future, Jay Mohr is a reporter who discovers the cult of pay-it-forward in Los Angeles, and is trying to trace back its origins. The structure was fine, and the Mohr path allowed the story to add some humor, as he tracked down some dead ends, and tried to separate the truth from the embellishments.||
| So what went wrong?
First of all, the film was such an obvious attempt to recreate the feeling of American Beauty, right down to what sounded to me like the exact same music.
Second, what are these good deeds, exactly? Hunt's mom (an unrecognizable Angie Dickinson) helps a fleeing felon, loot in hand, escape from the police. And that was a good idea because ...... ???
Third, after all these months, the reporter is able to trace an act of generosity toward him directly back to the little kid. That's the whole cult of pay-it-forward. At the end, a news announcer wonders if a mysterious anonymous donation was related, but nobody is sure. Not much of a cult.
Fourth, there was indeed an act of great generosity and forgiveness in the film. Hunt forgave her abusive husband when he came back sober and asked for another chance. That should have been the one that turned everything around. OOPS! That turned out to be a bad thing. The guy had been sober for five months, but he hit the bottle immediately on his return, like the next day or something, and started threatening his family.
So what have we learned so far? Helping an escaping felon is a good thing. Forgiving someone who really seems to have reformed is a bad thing. OK. Hey, I'm a lot more moral than I thought.
Finally, and of greatest importance, why did the story need to lead to the death of the little kid, and the sappy candlelit vigil maintained at his house? That story before that was sentimental, and necessarily a bit manipulative, but I was OK with it. What the hell is wrong with a little sentiment?
But the ending was simply designed to manipulate the audience, nothing else. All the points had already been made 15 minutes earlier. The death and vigil just added lots of hankie action. Get the audiences crying when the kid dies doing a good deed, then really pull out all the stops in the vigil, with the song about the little angel, and the close-ups of the faces in the crowd, blah, blah.
If they hadn't created that obviously manipulative and unnecessary ending, I'd probably be willing to recommend it to you as a sweet natured and gentle fable to share with your kids. But that schmaltzy ending totally destroyed it for me. Sorry. I guess I'm allergic to angels.
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