Movie Review: It (2017)

If it was tough being a clown before, it’s only going to get tougher now thanks to the success of IT, Argentine director Andy Muschietti’s film adaptation of Stephen King’s acclaimed 1,100-page novel of the same name. The story, which was also made into a 1990 TV miniseries, is about a group of pubescent teenagers in the fictional town of Derry, Maine, who must confront their deepest fears after they work out that the unexplained disappearances of some of the town’s children is tied to the mysterious presence of a malevolent clown named Pennywise.

The teens are all unwilling members of what the cool kids at their school have dubbed the “Losers’ Club”. Bill (Jaeden Lieberher, ST. VINCENT), is a stutterer. His 6-year-old brother, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), disappeared almost a year earlier after he went outside to play in the rain. (It’s very clear early on in the story that Derry is a place where kids rule and parents are on the periphery.) Richie (Finn Wolfhard, TV’s STRANGER THINGS) wears eyeglasses with lenses as thick as the bottoms of Coke bottles and loves to talk trash. Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) is both a hypochondriac and a mama’s boy. Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) is Jewish, which I suppose in 1989 is enough to make him an outsider. On the last day of the school year, the guys decide to spend their summer solving the mystery of what happened to both Georgie and a classmate who also went missing under indeterminate circumstances. They meet up with obese new kid in town, Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), who informs them that he’s been researching the town’s history at the library these past few months. Apparently, Ben tells them, kids have been disappearing from Derry at regular intervals for over a century.

The group of five quickly grows to six when Beverly (Sophia Lillis), whom the mean girls at school have unjustly labelled as being promiscuous, decides to join them. For Bill and Ben, that’s great news as they both have a crush on Beverly and it’s amusing to watch them vie for her affection. Beverly, though, like all the kids, has bigger issues to deal with. Though the film doesn’t delve into the matter as much as the book apparently does, it’s obvious (at least to adults) what’s going on at Beverly’s home. Six then becomes seven when Mike (Chosen Jacobs), is brought into the group. Mike, who may be the town’s token black kid, has been home schooled by his grandfather ever since his parents died in a mysterious fire at their home years earlier.

As the kids start putting the pieces of the puzzle together, Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård, ALLEGIANT; ATOMIC BLONDE) appears from time to time to feed on their innermost fears, take away a few more kids and unnerve us all as we watch. Both IT and Pennywise are really less scary than they are creepy though. At its core, IT is a coming-of-age story much like STAND BY ME (another film adaptation of a King novel) was back in 1986. Although Skarsgård’s performance is wonderful and perhaps worthy of an Oscar nomination, it is really secondary to the great work done by all the teens. (Just as STAND BY ME launched the careers of Wil Wheaton, Jerry O’Connell and, to a lesser extent, River Phoenix, it will be interesting to see what IT will do for these young actors’ careers.) Much of the praise should go to King and the film’s team of screenwriters that included Cary Fukunaga (producer-director of TV’s TRUE DETECTIVE), who wrote such richly drawn characters. By the time the closing credits roll, you will know each of these kids extremely well. You may even see yourself in one or two of them. (I’m about 75 percent Richie and 25 percent Stanley.)

Sadly, the film falters during the third act where the action shifts to the town’s obligatory dilapidated mansion and then to its network of sewers where Pennywise lives. With so many kids and so many fears and phobias to prey on, it takes a while for the clown to get through them all. As a result, we’re either numb by the end of it or perhaps just bored. My vote is with bored as I found the movie about 20 minutes too long. As well, as the light is quite dim in the sewers, it’s hard to make out everything that Pennywise is doing, and has done, down there.

Fans of the book or the 1990 miniseries know that there is more to this story than just a bunch of zitty teens chasing down an evil clown. Wisely, this film only focuses on the first part of the story, when the kids are kids. The second part, which takes place years later (and I won’t say how many years later because that would be a spoiler), has them all coming back to Derry to once again deal with the evil that lurks beneath the streets. It was just announced the other day that the sequel will come out sometime in 2019.

All in all, though, this is a fairly solid film and it’s certainly much better than all the garbage we’ve been subjected to over the summer. IT is well worth your money.

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