Pay It Forward (film)

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For other uses, see Pay it forward (disambiguation).
Pay It Forward
Pay it forward ver1.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Mimi Leder
Produced by Mary McLaglen
Jonathan Treisman
Steven Reuther
Peter Abrams
Robert L. Levy (II)
Paddy Carson
Screenplay by Leslie Dixon
Based on Pay It Forward 
by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Starring Kevin Spacey
Helen Hunt
Haley Joel Osment
Jay Mohr
Jim Caviezel
Jon Bon Jovi
Angie Dickinson
Music by Thomas Newman
Cinematography Oliver Stapleton
Edited by David Rosenbloom
Bel Air Entertainment
Tapestry Films
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
  • October 20, 2000 (2000-10-20)
Running time
123 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $40 million
Box office $55,707,411[1]

Pay It Forward is a 2000 American drama film based on the novel of the same name by Catherine Ryan Hyde. It was directed by Mimi Leder and written by Leslie Dixon. It stars Haley Joel Osment as a boy who launches a goodwill movement, Helen Hunt as his single mother, and Kevin Spacey as his social studies teacher.


When Trevor McKinney (Haley Joel Osment) begins seventh grade in Las Vegas, Nevada, his social studies teacher Eugene Simonet (Kevin Spacey) gives the class an assignment to devise and put into action a plan that will change the world for the better. Trevor's plan is a charitable program based on the networking of good deeds. He calls his plan "Pay It Forward", which means the recipient of a favor does a favor for three others rather than paying the favor back. However, it needs to be a major favor that the recipient cannot complete themselves.

Trevor does a favor for three people, asking each of them to "pay the favor forward" by doing favors for three other people, and so on, along a branching tree of good deeds. His first good deed is to let a homeless man named Jerry (Jim Caviezel) live in his garage, and Jerry pays the favor forward by doing car repairs for Trevor's mother. Trevor's efforts appear to fail when Jerry relapses into drug addiction, but Jerry pays his debt forward later by talking to a suicidal woman, who is about to jump off the bridge.

Meanwhile, Trevor's mother Arlene (Helen Hunt) confronts Eugene about Trevor's project after discovering Jerry in their house. Trevor then selects Eugene as his next "pay it forward" target and tricks Eugene and Arlene into a romantic dinner date. This also appears to fail until Trevor and Arlene argue about her love for Ricky, her alcoholic ex-husband, and she slaps him in a fit of anger. The two adults are brought together again when Trevor runs away from home and Arlene asks Eugene to help her find him.

After finding Trevor, Arlene begins to pursue Eugene sexually. Eugene has deep burn marks visible on his neck and face, and he initially resists Arlene's overtures out of insecurity. When they finally sleep together, he is seen to have extensive scarring all over his torso. Arlene accepts Eugene's physical disfigurement and forms an emotional bond with him, but quickly abandons their relationship when Ricky (Jon Bon Jovi) returns to her, claiming to have given up drinking. Ricky's return and Arlene's acceptance of it angers Eugene, whose own mother had a habit of taking his abusive, alcoholic father back. When Arlene attempts to explain to Eugene that she believes Ricky has changed for good, Eugene explains that his father intentionally burned him by knocking him unconscious, then pouring gasoline over him and igniting it. He berates Arlene for being "one of those women" and warns her of Ricky's potential to abuse Trevor. When Ricky drinks again and resumes his abusive behavior, Arlene realizes her mistake and forces him to leave.

Trevor's school assignment marks the beginning of the story's chronology, but the opening scene in the film shows one of latter favors in the "pay it forward" tree, in which a man gives a car to Los Angeles journalist Chris Chandler (Jay Mohr). As the film proceeds, Chris traces the chain of favors back to its origin as Trevor's school project. After her date with Eugene, Arlene paid Jerry's favor forward by forgiving her own mother, Grace (Angie Dickinson), for her mistakes in raising Arlene, and Grace, who is homeless, helps a gangmember escape from the police. The gang member then saves a girl's life in a hospital, and the girl's father gives Chris his new car.

Chris finally identifies Trevor as the originator of "pay it forward" and conducts a recorded interview in which Trevor describes his hopes and concerns for the project. Eugene, hearing Trevor's words, realizes that he and Arlene should be together. As Eugene and Arlene reconcile with an embrace, Trevor notices his friend Adam being bullied by gangster-like children, as he has several times before. He pays it forward to Adam by rushing into the scene and fighting the bullies while Eugene and Arlene rush to stop him. When one of the bullies takes a switchblade out of his pocket, Trevor is stabbed in the abdomen and dies from his injuries. This news is reported on television; Arlene and Eugene are soon visited by hundreds of people who have participated in or heard of the "Pay It Forward" movement by gathering in a vigil to pay Trevor their respects. The bullies also show up to pay their respects.


  • Kevin Spacey as Eugene Simonet, Trevor's social studies teacher who assigns the goodwill assignment to his class. He later dates Arlene.
  • Helen Hunt as Arlene McKinney, Trevor's alcoholic, single mother who works in both a casino and a strip club. She later dates Eugene.
  • Haley Joel Osment as Trevor McKinney, A 12-year-old boy who is troubled by his mother's alcoholism and his father's abuse and absence. He starts the movement of "Pay It Forward". Trevor dies from a stab wound in his abdomen at the end of the movie.
  • Jay Mohr as Chris Chandler, a reporter who interviewed Trevor.
  • Jim Caviezel as Jerry, a homeless drug addict.
  • Angie Dickinson as Grace, Arlene's mother.
  • Jon Bon Jovi as Ricky McKinney, Trevor's abusive and alcoholic father who has since left the family.
  • Marc Donato as Adam, Trevor's friend who has been bullied his whole life at school. He was saved by Trevor from the bullies at the end of the movie
  • Molly Bernard as Molly
  • Gary Werntz as Mr. Thorsen
  • Loren D. Baum as Bully No. 1. He pays tribute to Trevor in redemption at the end of the movie.
  • Nico Matinata as Bully No. 2. He pays tribute to Trevor in redemption at the end of the movie.
  • Zack Duhame as Bully No. 3. He pays tribute to Trevor in redemption at the end of the movie.


Leslie Dixon adapted the novel from the book of the same name by Catherine Ryan Hyde, which was available as an open writing assignment.[2] Dixon struggled with the adaptation of the book in part because of multiple narrative voices within it. Specifically in that the reporter, the central character in the film, does not show up until halfway through the novel. Stuck, Dixon considered returning the money she was paid for the assignment.[3] She eventually hit upon the idea to start with the reporter and trace the events backwards.[3] Dixon presented the idea to Hyde who in turn liked it so much that she decided to change the then unpublished novel's plot structure to mirror the film's.[4] In the novel, the character of Eugene was originally a black man by the name of Reuben St. Clair. The role was offered to Denzel Washington, but he turned it down. Kevin Spacey was contacted next and accepted the role.


The film received mixed reviews, although Spacey, Hunt, and Osment's performances in the film were universally praised. Rotten Tomatoes rated the film with 40% based on 127 reviews with a consensus saying, "Pay It Forward has strong performances from Spacey, Hunt, and Osment, but the movie itself is too emotionally manipulative and the ending is bad." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times gave the film 2.5 stars out of a possible 4 stating, "With a cleaner story line, the basic idea could have been free to deliver. As it is, we get a better movie than we might have, because the performances are so good: Spacey as a vulnerable and wounded man; Hunt as a woman no less wounded in her own way, and Osment, once again proving himself the equal of adult actors in the complexity and depth of his performance. I believed in them and cared for them. I wish the movie could have gotten out of their way."[5] Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum gave it a "D" grade, calling it "reprehensible" for using "shameless cliches of emotional and physical damage" and then "blackmailing audiences into joining the let's-be-nice 'movement'"[6] in order to be transparent Oscar bait.

Box office[edit]

The film opened at #4 in the North American box office making $9,631,359 USD in its opening weekend, behind Remember The Titans, Bedazzled and The House of the Dead 3, which was on its second week at number one.

See also[edit]

Remakes & Character Map[edit]

Pay It Forward (2000)
Stalin (2006)
Jai Ho (2014)
Haley Joel Osment Chiranjeevi Salman Khan
Helen Hunt Trisha Daisy Shah


  1. ^ Pay It Forward (2000) - Box Office Mojo
  2. ^ Cohen, David S (2008). SCREENPLAYS: HOW 25 SCRIPTS MADE IT TO A THEATER NEAR YOU-FOR BETTER OR WORSE (First ed.). New York: HarperEntertainment. p. 115. 
  3. ^ a b Cohen 117
  4. ^ Cohen 117-118
  5. ^ Ebert, Roger (October 20, 2000). "Pay It Forward Movie Review & Film Summary (2000)". Retrieved February 15, 2015. 
  6. ^ Lisa Schwarzbaum, MOVIE REVIEW Pay It Forward, Entertainment Weekly, October 27, 2000, accessed September 17, 2013.

External links[edit]