Comments (0)


Script Review: PAY IT FORWARD, by Leslie Dixon (October 15, 1999)

by Christopher Wehner



Screenwriter Leslie Dixon (THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR, MRS. DOUBTFIRE) will win the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, and if she doesn't it's a crime.

(Note: 11/29/01 updated - PAY IT FORWARD wasn't even nominated. Those that were nominated include: CHOCALTE, CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU?, WONDER BOYS and TRAFFIC. Stephen Gaghan's worthy screenplay for TRAFFIC was the winner. His script is reviewed for this book, as are most of the others. Though my prediction was utterly wrong, my conviction that it was one of the best screenplays of 2000 is not. That it wasn't even nominated was absurd. Reviewers criticized the movie for being contrived, relentlessly manipulative, and heavy handed. It did have its moments where there might have been a better way to communicate with audience. Sometimes in an effort to get a point across, the filmmaker beats the audience over the head with it and so can the screenwriter. The script did suffer from whims of manipulation, but it's still an important story. And in light of September 11 we no doubt need to tell more stories like the one Catherine Ryan Hyde and Leslie Dixon tell. At its core is a heart so big it could light the world. Even its deficiencies are not enough to snuff out its flame.)

PAY IT FORWARD is one of the most thought provoking, memorable, and intelligent screenplays I've read in awhile. This story will put its viewers through a gambit of emtions. Screenwriter Leslie Dixon deserves a lot of credit for her adaptation of the novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. I absolutely hate Leslie! I was so enthralled by the story that I didn't want to finish it, I wanted to wait for the movie. Ah, but this is the sacrifice I make for you the loyal reader.

According to reports, the film wrapped up production just a few weeks ago. It will star one of my favorite working actors today, Kevin Spacey. He plays Reuben St. Clair, a very unique and intriguing character. The story itself will bring all kinds of emotions to the surface for moviegoers.

Kevin Spacey is not the only excellent actor in this upcoming film. Haley Joel Osment plays Trevor McKinney and Helen Hunt takes on the conflicted role of Arlene McKinney, Trevor's mother.

Here's the gist of the story without giving away more than what's already known: Reuben St. Clair is a Social Studies teacher. Every year he challenges his students to do something to make the world a better place. Reuben writes on the board, "Think of an idea for world change, then put it into action." The students who do this will get an automatic A in the class. Trevor takes the challenge to heart, and in a big way. He devises a plan where he will do favors for three strangers, and those people will be asked to "pay it forward," and do a deed for three more strangers, and so on. Thus starting a chain-reaction. Trevor's mother (Helen Hunt) finds out about the challenge and goes to school to confront Reuben. (Trevor brought a homeless man into their home.) Then over a series of events they unexpectedly start a relationship.

All the while a reporter, Chris, is investigating what he calls a "movement" taking place. One rainy night while working Chris' car is completely smashed. Out of the blue a Stranger approaches him and says he can help him. Then, from page 3 of the script:

His fishes in his pocked and TOSSES a set of car keys to 
Chris -- which Chris instinctively catches. The man points 
across the street.

		It's the green Volvo.
		You want me to drive home in your car?
		I want you to take my car.

Chris, dumbfounded, isn't sure what to say. The Stranger proceeds to tell him he's had "a lot of luck lately." According to the script, Chris' storyline is developing in the present. When we are with Trevor, Arlene and Reuben, the story is taking place during the previous summer. So we have two parallel stories developing. Chris' storyline is a secondary and complementary one to Trevor's story. But it's vital.

Later on Chris meets up with Strange who gave him the car, Thorsen, who proceeds to tell Chris to "pay it forward." Chris is still waiting for the catch, but it never comes. Thorsen leaves, and Chris realizes there's something going on. The reporter in him starts working. He eventually finds his way to Las Vegas and Trevor's home, where both storylines come together in the present time. The structure created by Dixon will allow for the audience to see the cause-and-effect relationship between the two storylines. A very interesting and unique way to develop the story.

This script is full of great writing and all the elements of an Oscar winner are present. Dixon's prose is very engaging, and very satisfying to read. Because of the excellent writing, Kevin Spacey will be nominated for an Academy Award for this performance. His character is scarred and in deep emotional agony. Spacey's ability to add subtle character touches should also add layers of depth to an already complicated character.There is so much in the script that can be done with his character that Spacey will make the part even better than it is written, I'm sure of that. Helen Hunt's character (Arlene) is just as interesting, and with plenty of character moments in the script she could find herself nominated as well. There is also no question that Haley will make Trevor a unique and inspiring persona on screen. He could just very well steal the show, again, as he did in THE SIXTH SENSE.

This is a story about doing the right thing and trusting your fellow man (and women) to do the right thing. It's about the power of compassion and understanding. We need more PAY IT FORWARD's and fewer ARMEGEDDON's. Looking beyond a person's status, situation or appearance and offering an open mind is what this story teaches us.

Obviously, I can't say enough about the story and the possibilities. I truly hated having to read the whole thing for this review. I know everyone out there will come away from the movie with many different emotions and thoughts. It's going to be an excellent movie.

The film is due out late October placing it nicely for Oscar consideration and just soon enough to catch moviegoers at a good time, but not too early (or late) to be overlooked by the Academy.

Finally, the script has got a good director as well. Director Mimi Leder (DEEP IMPACT) will kept the integrity of the script in place and I believe will even add to the words with some powerful direction.

Look for PAY IT FORWARD this October at a theater near you.

More recent articles in Script Reviews


Only logged-in members can comment. You can log in or join today for free!