The Golden Rule in Triplicate
The inspiring 'Pay It Forward' says one good turn deserves three others
"Pay It Forward"-- an exposition of the Golden Rule in triplicate -- is that rare film which leaves you with a tear or two, a warm feeling that maybe we can have a good effect upon a cold, indifferent world. Director Mimi Leder, best known for action films "Deep Impact" and "The Peacemaker," has taken Leslie Dixon's screenplay and an outstanding cast and given us one of the most inspirational films to grace movie theaters in a long time.
Based on the novel of the same name by Catherine Ryan Hyde, the film stars Kevin Spacey as social studies teacher Eugene Simonet, Helen Hunt as single-mother Arlene McKinney, and the boy who charmed us in "The Sixth Sense," Haley Joel Osment, as 11 year-old Trevor McKinney.
Set in Las Vegas, where no one lives far from the desert, the movie is full of characters who are also living on the edge of a spiritual desert. Eugene has been suppressing a past trauma-which he literally wears on his terribly scarred face-by pouring all of his energy into teaching. His students are his only family. Arlene, addicted to alcohol, has been trying to raise her son and make ends meet by working two jobs since her abusive, drug-addled husband abandoned her and Trevor, who, alone most of the time, has little chance to enjoy childhood. Indeed, he often acts as the parent, searching for and emptying liquor bottles his mother hides throughout the house.
The movie starts with a S.W.A.T. team scene out of any of Leder's action films. A reporter's car is destroyed in the melee, and a stranger comes up and hands him the keys to his expensive car, no strings attached. This sets the incredulous reporter off on a cross-continental trek to find out why a stranger would present him with such a lavish gift. This brings us to Trevor, and his campaign, inspired by a civics-class assignment, to build a pyramid scheme of love and charity: do someone a good turn, and have them do a good turn for three other people: The Golden Rule in triplicate.
To carry out his plan, Trevor has to win over his mom, and Eugene, who started it all with his classroom assignment, comes in for a tongue-lashing by Arlene. Despite good intentions, Trevor also finds that "fixing" people is fraught with difficulties. People he tries to help fall back into their bad ways, and his no-good dad shows up asking for redemption. Others simply prefer not to accept help.