Listen, I’m not going to say too much about the 2000 film Pay It Forward because it’s such a terrible movie that I feel like writing too much about it would be like the equivalent of having sex in It Follows. Seriously, you talk too much about Pay It Forward and you’ll end up with some sort of shape-shifting demon following you around, doing you favors and demanding that you do three more favors for three other people and then those people have to do three more favors and pretty soon, everyone in the world is doing favors for everyone and…
Okay, okay — I know that probably doesn’t sound too bad to some people. “People being nice to each other!? What could be wrong about that?” Well, watch the damn film and find out.
In Pay it Forward, Haley Joel Osment plays a creepy little kid who basically “saves” the world. At the end of the film, he’s violently murdered and the entire population of Las Vegas gathers outside of his house with candles. His mother Helen Hunt is truly touched that everyone was so moved by Haley’s mission. That said, if Haley had never decided that everyone should pay it forward, he probably wouldn’t be dead. I mean, let’s just be honest here.
Before he died, Haley was challenged by his social studies teacher, Kevin Spacey. Mr. Spacey challenged an entire class of 7th graders to come up with an idea that will change the world. (Honestly, don’t 7th graders already have enough to deal with?) Haley’s idea is that he’ll do a favor for three random people and then those three people will do three nice things for three people and then…
BLEH! God, I hate this movie!
Anyway, Haley gives money to a homeless man and then that homeless man keeps a woman from committing suicide and then that woman does something nice for Angie Dickinson and then somehow, this all eventually leads to some rich guy giving Jay Mohr a car and telling him to “pay it foward.”
And Jay’s a reporter!
So, naturally, he starts to work his way backwards on the chain of good deeds. Along the way, he meets a prison inmate who has been converted to Pay It Forwardism. “This is going to change the world!” he tells Jay. “I’m even getting the brothers in here in on it!”
By the way, there’s exactly one person of color in Pay It Forward and he’s a prison inmate who thinks that other inmates will want to do random favors for each other.
Oh, but Haley has to do two other favors! So, he sets Helen Hunt up with Kevin Spacey and when he catches his teacher coming out his mom’s bedroom, Haley gets really, really excited and … well, it’s pretty creepy.
At first, Helen thinks that Kevin thinks that she’s not smart enough to date him. When Helen asks him point blank if he thinks that she’s dumb, he responds by giving a really long monologue about the time that his father set him on fire. Kevin does not mention what his father was attempting to pay forward…
And then Jay shows up in town and interviews Haley and oh my God, Haley’s going to change the world! Yay! But then Haley spends his third favor trying to protect a kid (played by Degrassi‘s Marc Donato) from some bullies and ends up getting stabbed to death.
But fear not! Along with that candlelight vigil, we also hear an anchorwoman breathlessly reporting that there have been reports of “Pay it Forwardism” across the country.
Now, there’s a lot of negative things that I could say about Pay It Forward but … well, I kinda already did. Pay It Forward pops up on TV a lot and there’s a lot of idiots who always get excited about it.
Here’s my fear concerning the whole Pay It Forward idea. It seems like anybody can just do anything and then go, “Pay it forward,” and suddenly, you are obligated to go do three favors. You may be running late. You may have other things you need to do. But no, you’ve been told to pay it forward and now, you have to! Because of one creepy little kid who wanted his social studies teacher to have sex with his mom, you have now been inconvenienced.
There doesn’t seem to be any rule about how big of a favor anyone actually has to do before they can smugly order you to “Pay it forward.” Think about this. You’re trying to get a Coke from a vending machine but all of your dollars are all crumbled up and the machine won’t accept them. You’re about to give up and go home when suddenly, a stranger walks up and deposits three quarters in the machine and punches a button.
He tosses you a grape drink. You wanted a Coke but, because you’re nice and you think he was selflessly trying to help you out, you smile and say, “Thank you.”
“Pay it forward,” he replies before walking away.
Well, now, you’re screwed, aren’t you?
Now, suddenly, you have to go find three people who need a favor. You didn’t want grape. You wanted a Coke and, even if you had never gotten that Coke, it would not have been the end of the world. But, because you were polite and said thank you, you are now obligated.
As you look for people to help, it occurs to you that stranger really didn’t care about whether you wanted a Coke. What he cared about was completing his third favor so he could actually get on with his life. So, no, he wasn’t trying to help you or trying to make the world a better place. Instead, he was just trying to free himself of a nagging obligation.
So, after a long search, you’ve finally found your three strangers and you’ve done your three favors and you’re finally free of your obligation. And then suddenly, another stranger runs up and tosses you the keys to one of those stupid looking Smart cars and yells, “Pay it forward!”
SERIOUSLY, IT NEVER ENDS!
Don’t tell me about paying it forward.
Just leave me alone and let me drink my damn Coke.