Warner Brothers in association with bel-Air Entertainment and Tapestry Films. Produced by Steven Reuther, Peter Abrams, and Robert L. Levy. Directed by Mimi Leder. Screenplay by Leslie Dixon after a novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde.
Have you ever wanted a DVD for your library that you can pull out to lift your spirits? One that you can view again and again? Beautifully acted by some of the best talent of its age, the film presents the simple redemptive concept that helping others without any motive of compensation can lead to a chain reaction of wonderful results.
But there are many other themes in the film, adding several layers of complexity. According to Helen Hunt, who played a Las Vegas "trailer-trash" mother with an estranged and abusive husband, two jobs, a drinking problem, and a son named Trevor (Haley Joel Osment), the movie is a "love story." But director Leder stresses the fact that the film has many 'random acts of love" and "random acts of violence," and is 'all about forgiveness.' Then there are the psychological struggles between Hunt's character and those of Trevor's teacher (Kevin Spacey), who is still coping with the long-term consequences of serious burns that scar much of his body. Only actors of the highest quality can pull all of this off, and you will find Hunt, Osment, and Spacey well equipped for the task. In one scene, Hunt's character confronts Spacey's in his apartment. She storms in, they exchange a brief dialog, and she storms out--but in those few moments, the quality of acting is so impressive that we learn more about these people than most films could present in an hour.
The main theme of the film, of course, is the "pay it forward" (as opposed to "pay it back") idea. A character receives a substantial favor from another, but is not allowed to pay it back. Rather, he or she is to do deeds on behalf of three others, who are to respond likewise. While the particular formulation in this film (the power-of-three mathematics) may well be original, the concept of unconditional love is not a new one by any means. It is deeply rooted in the Bible, and this film can well be a good starting point for any discussion of agape in the church.
Many who have seen the movie have complained about the ending, which is often described as hopelessly maudlin. All I can say to those critics is that they somehow missed something very important. The key to this piece of fiction is that Trevorís "pay it forward" had a success far greater than anyone had realized. And the choice of music that accompanies the closing scene, "Calling All Angels," is the film's only explicitly "religious" element. Only in its tragic conclusion, deliberately done with no dialog to subtract from the images on the screen, can the full fulfillment of that payoff be portrayed. So grab a box of Kleenex and watch this film. You will be blessed.