Three Clowns Talk About It
By Adam WagnerSeptember 18, 2017
Grab the closest rock. Leave the silver bullets. And cue the New Kids on the Block. It’s time to discuss It. Let’s start with some background info—how familiar were you with the story coming into the new film?
Adam Wagner: I knew there was a clown. And some kids. And a newspaper boat for some reason. I knew Tim Curry was the original Pennywise. And I knew there was an awkward pre-teen gangbang we were thankfully spared.
Other than that, I hadn’t read the book or seen the original until last weekend. I watched the 3-hour miniseries first, then I went and saw the new version a few days later. So I’m coming at this with fresh eyes for both films. No irrational fear of clowns stemming from watching It too early as a kid for me. Just a good ol’ rational fear of clowns because they’re face-painted murder devils.
I think John Oliver said it best on Last Week Tonight: “I don’t think clowns are for entertainment at all. They are for murder threats, attempted murder, and actual murder.”
Pritpaul Bains: King has probably been the single biggest influence on my reading and writing since I was 10 years old when I snuck a copy of Misery out of the adult section of my small town library. (Yeah, 10-year-old me probably had a few issues.) I read It a couple of years later, and while I haven’t revisited it in the two decades since, the book indelibly seared itself into my brain in a way few stories ever have. I was tempted to do a reread when the first wave of trailers hit, but I decided that going in with a broad (if aged) level of familiarity would be well-suited to a unique reimagining of the tale.
Joe Brosnan: It sounds like I’m somewhere in between you two in that I came to King’s work somewhat recently—maybe three or four years ago. Since then, I’ve been working my way through his various offerings, with The Stand cemented as one of my favorite books ever. With the anticipation of the new film growing steadily, and the first trailer proving that there was a good chance it wouldn’t be a complete failure (*cough* The Dark Tower *cough*), I decided to take the plunge and read it beforehand.
I knew very little about the story. As Adam said, I knew there were a clown and some kids, but that was practically it. So as I marathoned my way through the book, I kept running into wonderful surprises. Pennywise takes much more of a backseat than I expected, and the alternating timelines provided the perfect natural breaks in the action.
Now, of course, we don’t get the alternating timelines in the film, as Andrés Muschietti smartly chose to keep things simple and focus solely on the Loser’s Club as children. What do you guys think of that decision? Smart? Or did you prefer getting both storylines at once?
PB: Full disclosure—historically, I’m a purist when it comes to adaptations. I’m that asshole in the back of the theater yelling “BUT WHERE’S TOM BOMBADIL?” during The Fellowship of the Rings.
With that said, I’ve been actively trying to evolve from purist to recovering purist over the last few years, as the former tends to result mostly in disappointment. In the spirit of self-improvement, I freely admit that separating the childhood and adult narratives was a smart choice for the film. It was the best way to ensure the narrative maintained a consistent tone and reached a logical stopping point without the movie ending prematurely—and without turning It into a 3.5-hour marathon that probably still would have felt rushed.
I still had issues with the pacing of the film—especially in the second half, after the gang starts to drift apart—but by and large, the choice to parse out the children from the adults was fundamentally a sound one.
AW: When I watched the original miniseries the other day, my first critique was that it felt extremely disjointed. Well, actually my first critique—which came after adult Bill first fell back into his “stutter”—was that the acting was god-awful. But that’s forgivable for a made-for-TV miniseries from the ’90s.
The first hour and a half of the miniseries was so sequentially filmed that it almost felt like the beginning of Tropic Thunder where each main character gets their own separate intro “trailer.” I’m sure the book handled the shifting perspectives better, but the miniseries came across like a 5th-grader’s book report: “First, Bill did this. Then, we see young Bill do this. Next, Ben is doing this. After, we’re shown young Ben doing this.”
The film, however, felt like a cohesive story. Beginning, middle, and end (sorta). Though I agree with Prit, the pacing was a little off. I think they tried to include one too many encounters with Pennywise, and it left me wishing they’d get on with it already.
JB: I agree about the pacing as well. It was a welcomed relief when we were spared an additional child-sees-It-for-the-first-time scene and instead just had Richie straight up say he was afraid of clowns.
And speaking of Richie: that raunchy little bastard absolutely killed it. (Yes, that was intentional.) Seriously, every line out of his mouth was gold. (“Do you need to be a virgin to see this fucking clown?”)
And then he backed up all that talk by being the first to attack It after Bill was taken hostage. When reading, I wasn’t a big fan of Richie—his horrible (and racist) voices were just a little too much for me, but boy did they ace the movie version. Credit to Finn Wolfhard too, that was not an easy character to play. What about you guys—who was your favorite member of the Loser’s Club?
AW: During the entire movie, all I wanted to do was grab Ben Hanscom’s (Jeremy Ray Taylor) cherubic little face and tell him not to go to high school. He was great as the husky hero with a poet’s heart.
But I’m with Joe—Richie killed it. Fresh from his Stranger Things fame, Finn Wolfhard stole the show with a slew of one-liners that made up for the missing Tim Curry cheeseball lines. When discussing the film with my girlfriend, she asked if boys that age actually talk like that—yes, yes they do. With the exception of Superbad (which is obviously a different demographic of kid), the kids in the film version of It might have captured the voice (curse words and all) of pre-teens better than any other movie.
But, for me, I think Beverly Marsh was the best. She was cool and confident while still being insecure. She embraced her reputation because she knew she couldn’t change it, but you could tell, deep down, it affected her greatly. The abuse she endured from her father was awful, but she put on a brave face nonetheless. Those kinds of complex emotions—portrayed brilliantly by Sophia Lillis, who I think is an up-and-coming star—are what make the film and its themes of childhood and friendship endearing, and I think Bev shined brightest (and floated highest).
PB: I’m just gonna echo you guys here a bit, but all of Ben, Richie, and Beverly were fantastic. Richie’s character especially could’ve gone one of two ways: aces or annoying. Seth Green’s take in the original miniseries skewed more toward the annoying side. Wolfhard was anything but. Beverly’s character has an especial heft to it in both the book and the film, and Lillis was perfection. (And props to the writers for nailing the mostly innocent, mildly sexual overtones with Bev joining the Loser’s club—they straddled that fine line between natural teenage curiosity and outright creepiness masterfully.)
But Ben takes the cake (and the cookies and the chips) for me as my favorite Loser. Taylor’s take on Ben as the (literal) new kid on the block, both emotionally and physically vulnerable, all while maintaining an indomitable sweetness at his core, was my favorite performance of the movie. My heart burns there too, buddy. My heart burns there too.
In a movie with so large a cast of characters, though, some will inevitably fall by the wayside. Eddie was perfectly serviceable but nothing more, and Stan, to me, just kind of faded in and out of the movie at times without my really noticing.
But the character that was truly given the short end of the stick in this adaptation was Mike. In the book, Mike is the core of the story. He’s the one who proactively researches It and the history of Derry and pieces together the mystery. He’s the one who takes the hit and stays behind in Derry to prepare for the next encounter.
He and Beverly face the most terrifying aspects of it, manifest in the overt racism (which the movie essentially glossed over) he experiences and the sexual abuse she suffers. But when it comes to this adaptation, it felt like Mike was barely in it, and when he was, he wasn’t particularly significant. I wonder if they have bigger plans for him in the second chapter.
JB: We can’t discuss this film without properly talking about Pennywise the Dancing Clown, and I doubt I’m alone in saying that heaps of praise should be given to Bill Skarsgård for his portrayal. The combination of Pennywise’s misaligned eyes (not CGI—all Bill) and his stilted, not-quite-right accent, Skarsgård nailed Pennywise for exactly what it is: an alien-type being playing at being a human-ish clown.
There was never any doubt that Pennywise was otherworldly, and the film’s CGI department hammered that home with all of the herky-jerky movements. The scene where Eddie breaks his arm and Pennywise is toying with him as he emerges from the old refrigerator was the highlight of the film. It almost made up for the omission of the book’s OTHER refrigerator scene with Bev and the leeches.
AW: I think I speak for everyone when I say “Tim Curry is the shIt.” I’m in the camp that likes its horror with a bit of camp, and I really missed the cheesy one-liners from the miniseries. That said, from a horror perspective, Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise was incredible. As an R-rated movie, this version of It had some leeway with the gore and some budget for the effects, which made for a movie that was wildly scarier than its miniseries predecessor. Since it’s impossible to pick one or the other given the differing circumstances, I won’t.
PB: Let’s be honest—the true success of this movie was always going to be contingent on Pennywise’s portrayal. The ’90s miniseries was, by and large, pretty terrible, and the sole reason it retains any kind of relevance to modern-day silver-screen horror is because of Tim Curry’s performance. Those are rather large (clown) shoes to fill.
And yet, even with all that weight to bear, Skarsgård was tremendous. At once a seething cocktail of charm, inanity, and malice, he not only met but surpassed my expectations at every turn. That so much of his performance was based on physicality (like his eyes, as Joe noted, and his lip-laden smile) makes Pennywise even more impressive.
My one mild criticism (and this is by no means a shot at Skarsgård, who can hardly be faulted for being too compelling) is that Pennywise in his clown manifestation felt a tad overused. You have a supernatural being who’s the manifest of fear itself. Why is It always a clown? But this is hardly a significant flaw—when you have a character that’s this fun to watch, it’s hard to fault the movie for wanting to show Skarsgård off as much as possible.
JB: So let’s fast-forward to modern-day Derry. While the book presents both storylines intersectionally (sometimes to a fault), the film smartly decided to focus on The Loser’s first bout with It. That means that we’re due a Part 2, and our lovable losers won’t be pre-teens anymore. They’ll be approaching 40, and thus, we’ll need new actors. So who would you guys like to see in these roles?
Here are my choices:
Ben: Mark Duplass
Bill: Corey Stoll
Richie: Bill Hader
Eddie: Sam Rockwell
Stan: Paul Dano
Mike: Sterling K. Brown
Bev: Jessica Chastain
Alright, who you guys got?
PB: I’m looking forward to what Chapter Two will have to offer. This first effort had a Stranger Things meets Stand By Me vibe—intense, but very much an R-rated movie you could take your kids to (I mean … don’t, but you could).
I’m really hoping the adult timeline takes a darker turn, though. It certainly did in the book, and I have a feeling that director Andy Muschietti will pick up on that and the next film will be significantly tonally different. I envision it opening the exact same way the book does, which would certainly establish that shift almost immediately. I’ll also be interested to see if they shift Mike back into his book character, or if they’re going to push that role off on Ben (who took it over in this movie).
As for casting choices … let’s see:
Ben: Ben Foster
Bill: Hugh Dancy
Richie: Seth Green, reprising his role from the 90s mini-series in real time.
Eddie: Jay Baruchel
Stan: Jesse Eisenberg
Mike: Jordan Peele (the man clearly knows horror and he should be in more movies.)
Bev: Alicia Witt
AW: This was tough for me actually. I originally just wrote down Eddie Murphy for all of them and was thinking of a bad pun-based title (along the lines of It, Chapter 2: The Clownmps—I know, boooo), but I thought I’d give it a try:
Ben: Parks & Recreation Chris Pratt
Bill: Colin Hanks
Richie: Zach Braff (though Bill Hader is probably perfect)
Eddie: Wil Wheaton
Stan: Jesse Eisenberg
Mike: Michael Ealy
Bev: Amy Adams
Alright, we’ve touched on our favorite Losers, cast Chapter Two’s stars, and agreed that Skarsgård’s Pennywise did both King and Curry proud. We’ve floated and newspaper boated, traded our placebos for gazebos, and swapped the S for the V on our casts. And most importantly, in a Kingsian twist, we had to venture into the sewers to rid ourselves of the lingering stench that had been following us around since The Dark Tower.
What did you think of It? Who’s casting choices do you agree with most? What King adaptation do you want to see next? Do you smell the popcorn?