Pay It Forward (Thomas Newman)
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If young Thomas Newman hasn't reinvented the art of film scoring, he's certainly bent and hammered many of its most shopworn clichés into refreshing new musical elements. As he did with similar work for American Beauty and Erin Brockovich, Newman's music suffuses the characters and plot of director Mimi Leder's socially conscious melodrama with an almost stealthy sense of mood and emotion. Once again using his small studio ensemble to great effect, Newman provides a modern, largely rhythmic soundscape, one whose electronically synthesized elements blend so well with his organic sounds as to be utterly seamless. And if there's a familiarity creeping into his work, it's only because Newman--like all the greats--has found such a distinct, effective musical voice. Equally important here, the composer also remembers the Newman family's daunting Hollywood roots--father Alfred, brother David, uncles Lionel and Emil, cousin Randy--and reinforces the film's sensitive nature with quiet, more traditional pastoral orchestral passages, frequently with his own spare solo piano taking the lead. Singer Jane Siberry's "Calling All Angels" closes the album out with appropriate grace and beauty. --Jerry McCulley
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The plot of the story behind the music (Pay it Forward) comes to us from a brilliant idea that became the focus of a novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde which became a family movie starring Kevin Spacey (Lester in American Beauty) and Helen Hunt, and Haley Joel Osmond (of Second Hand Lions and The Sixth Sense). The book was decent and fairly well-written for my taste … but the idea is absolutely fantastic—and the power motion behind the global “pay it forward” humanitarian movement.
Picture this: A quiet, average teen comes up with the idea of helping his neighbor, a homeless man, by offering him food and etc. who is told to “pay it forward” to two other persons, doing an act of generosity for them. They then pay two more each, equaling four, who then pay forward kindness to six more … in a pyramidal scheme that grows ever wider toward a base that—get this—never ends! Dozens of people become hundreds become thousands and eventually millions, all of them paying it forward in an international movement for peace.
All while this is going on across the country, as lives are being changed, the boy’s mother (Helen Hunt) grapples with men issues, including the dead beat boy’s father, and her sudden romantic spark with the sophisticated and erudite social studies teacher (Spacey) who challenged his students to “change the world with one deed.” But when a tragedy strikes that could ruin everything, and lives hang in the balance, the question becomes this: Trevor impacted all those others lives, but can he hold together his own universe—in Vegas, Arizona—even as around the world people are changing. And what about that pesky reporter, determined to find out what exactly is going on with everyone acting so strangely all of a sudden? He treks across the U.S. in search of the one person who holds the answers—Trevor (Osmond).
Given this extraordinary backdrop, Pay It Forward’s music should stand out among all other family films (and franchises). The final product is unconventional. It’s strange and different but in a mostly good way. The piano tracks like 1, 8, 13, 18, 22, 24, and 26 are very original compositions and very peaceful to the ear. They carry a soft thematic structure for the family/love atmosphere of the film. The percussion in tracks 1, 4, 9, 14, 20, 21, and 25 sounds like pots and pans being rattled and shaken, and has a very urban, city feel. As a matter of fact, some of the percussion actually appears lifted from The Exorcist’s Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield or Thomas Newman’s other work I previously mentioned. Some tracks have a droning, instrumental “rubbing” sound, notably track 2. I would compare this shifting, jangling clatter to Edward Shearmur’s score for K-PAX— for the New Mexico scenes, yet another Kevin Spacey film. Percussion thumps and series of beats mimic Shearmur’s zany “Zen extraterrestrial” feel for that film, even though the genres are polar opposites.
Another facet of this okay album is a wonderful theme song “Calling all Angels” by Jane Siberry. The soft, slow, touching song is worth the price of admission and will have you singing along. Haley’s character is the “angel” in the story, and the other “angels” are … us, people at our best.
Sparking an international campaign to “do good” to others, not expecting anything in return except that people pass it on. But for the purposes of story, this makes for great fiction. It’s a classic. Much in the same vein as the Green Movement, something I wrote about in college for my senior thesis. People are the principle concern though, not nature. I encourage you to become a part and be active in trying to do good, in your home, neighborhood, and community, something the world needs a lot more of, people and kids with a “Trevor heart.”
I Corinthians 10:24 should edify you to begin. God bless.