Pay It Forward

Pay It Forward Information

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 good-will movement, Helen Hunt as his single mother, and Kevin Spacey as his social-studies teacher.


When eleven and a half year old 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 receiver can't 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 alcoholism 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 her alcoholic ex-husband 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 him that she believes Ricky has changed for good, he explains that his father intentionally burned him by knocking him unconscious and pouring gas over him, berating 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 the later 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, Chandler 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 gang member escape from the police. The gang member then saves a girl's life in a hospital, and the girl's father gives Chandler his new car.

Chandler 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 a passionate embrace, Trevor notices his friend Adam being bullied by gangster-like kids. He rushes into the scene and fights them while Eugene and Arlene rush to stop him. One of the bullies takes a stick-knife out of his pocket. Trevor is then accidentally pushed into the knife and is stabbed in his body. Trevor consequently dies at the hospital. This news is reported on television; Arlene and Eugene are soon visited by hundreds of people who have participated in the "pay it forward" movement, gathering in a vigil to pay Trevor 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: An 11-year-old boy who is troubled by his mother's alcoholism and father's abuse and absence. He starts the movement of "Pay It Forward".
  • Jay Mohr as Chris Chandler
  • Jim Caviezel as Jerry
  • Angie Dickinson as Grace
  • 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 is constantly picked on by the bullies.
  • Loren D. Baum as Bully No. 1
  • Nico Matinata as Bully No. 2
  • Zack Duhame as Bully No. 3


Leslie Dixon adapted the novel from the book of the same name by Catherine Ryan Hyde, which was available as an open writing assignment 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. She eventually hit uppon the idea to start with the reporter and trace the events backwards. 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.


Reviews for the film were generally mixed. 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."

Box office

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

See also

  • Pay it forward
  • Magnificent Obsession a 1954 film in which a similar concept was portrayed.

This webpage uses material from the Wikipedia article "Pay_It_Forward" and is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Reality TV World is not responsible for any errors or omissions the Wikipedia article may contain.



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