Pay It Forward | Chicago Reader

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Recent American movies have been so impoverished in their treatment of moral issues that when one actually tries to say something—anything—about the way we live, I'd like to encourage it. But the truth is that this programmatic Christian parable is pretty unbearable—glib, often myopic, and reeking with sentimentality and self-pity. Any recent Iranian feature that comes to mind could teach this movie lessons in ethics and common sense. The model here is obviously American Beauty, right down to the musical score, whose suggestion of New Age wind chimes is apparently explained by the presence of Kevin Spacey in the cast. Challenged by his mysteriously scarred teacher (Spacey) to make the world a better place, an 11-year-old boy (Haley Joel Osment) takes in a homeless heroin addict (James Caviezel), to the consternation of the boy's struggling mother (Helen Hunt), a sometime go-go dancer and waitress who is trying to overcome her own alcoholism. What the title means is that the world would be a wonderful place if you started performing good deeds for strangers, expecting nothing in return. Mimi Leder—who previously directed The Peacemaker, about the virtues of American butt kicking—apparently believes in this message too. Leslie Dixon adapted a novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. 122 min.

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