By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
From murderous clowns to modern romance: Check out my thoughts on It and Home Again.
Between a smart marketing campaign, the general (perceived) ickiness of clowns in general, the beloved nature of Stephen King and this novel in particular, and fond memories of Tim Curry as Pennywise in the 1990 TV miniseries adaptation, there's not much to say about It that hasn't already been said.
You know if you want to see it (It, rather), and heck, you probably already have. A great score on Rotten Tomatoes and the fact that it clobbered the competition at the box office only help make that decision for most folks.
And I have no interest in persuading you not to see the film. It's made with extreme competence, from the screenwriting stage through the filming, with a smartly chosen cast. Overall, it exudes a thoughtful attempt to wrangle King's massive, 1,138-page novel into a movie that runs slightly over two hours.
But I couldn't help but feel that It is good, but not great. I've been wrangling with my thoughts about It since seeing it on opening night, and I'll confess that I've been inordinately excited about this film version since Cary Fukunaga was first on board as a writer-director, through his unfortunate departure in 2015 and now to the actual release under the helm of director Andy Muschietti. I first read the book as a teenager (not too much older than the Losers Club themselves) when it came out in 1986, and I've reread it more than any other of King's books except, perhaps, The Stand.
So either I'm all in on It or, more likely, I'm a little too invested.
Because, like I said, the movie is really fun to watch. The kids — Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things), Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Chosen Jacobs, Sophia Lillis, Jack Dylan Grazer and Wyatt Oleff are particularly well cast, and Bill Skarsgård is a delightfully creepy, odd Pennywise. The jump scares are especially effective early on (though they get repetitive toward the end), and Muschietti makes some really smart choices; in particular, I liked the way he chose to depict Beverly's main encounter with the creature — when it sends a geyser of blood through her bathroom sink — and how it worked on so many thematic levels.
But I feel like something deeper was lost in translation overall. Part of that is the consequence of cramming most of a giant book into a feature film, even with the distinct likelihood that a sequel will soon be announced that will carry the story into the Losers' adulthood. But King didn't break his story into two distinct parts. He wove the past and present together masterfully, enriching both halves of the story that a film split into two won't be able to match. It's an ineffable loss, but a loss just the same.
And while I understand the reason that some aspects needed to be rewritten to better serve the film — and while I try to never review the film I wish was made rather than the film that actually was — I can't help but bemoan a few choices.
In the book, Mike Hanlon (Jacobs), the one black kid in the Losers Club, is the one who stays behind, the one who knows the history of Derry as if it was written on his skin. The film makes Ben (Taylor) — the overweight kid who's silently pining for Beverly (Lillis) — into the amateur historian. Expositionally, it works, I guess; Ben's rewritten to be the new kid in town, so having a curiosity about the weird new town he's living in is logical. But having Mike bear the weight of the town's secrets worked on such a wonderful metaphorical level, and that's lost here.
Beverly also suffers some in the adaptation. Her motivation is tied more directly to the sexual abuse the movie makes clear she has suffered at the hands of her father, and she's the unwitting center of a love triangle between herself, Ben and Bill (Lieberher). She's more of an object (and a sexualized one at that) than a fully realized character, a matter made worse by one of the biggest, and most flawed, changes in the script: Pennywise kidnaps her and hauls her to his lair in the sewers beneath Derry. In the book, she actively chose to bring the fight to the monster's front door; here, she's a passive damsel in distress. It's retrograde and dull.
Still, despite those flaws, It is worth seeing, on the off chance you haven't already. Musschietti and the screenwriting team mostly took great care in bringing the story to the screen — more care than many adaptations of King's books. Here's hoping the sequel improves things further.
I hope we're in the middle of a Reese Witherspoon-aissance.
Her spectacular work in Big Little Lies should have reminded us what a skillful actress she is, capable of making us empathize with a not-terribly sympathetic character. She deserves such complicated roles and, as a producer in her own right, now she's making sure those roles (not often available to women in that nebulous ground between ingenue and elder statesman) are available to her and other women.
So what's she doing in a bit of fluff like Home Again?
Showing us how it's done.
Home Again is essentially nonessential, like a meringue of a movie that's tasty when you bite into it, but gone in an instant. Writer-director Hallie Meyers-Shyer learned well at the foot of her mother, Nancy Meyers, who built a career of making well-crafted, entertaining films about rich white people's problems, generally in a house containing a fabulous kitchen. It's a niche, but there's nothing necessarily wrong with that.
Meyers' films have a bit more heft to them, though, than Home Again, which ends so abruptly I thought a scene was missing. But there's nothing necessarily wrong with Home Again — other than, again, that there's not much there there — but there's everything right about Witherspoon's performance.
She's Alice, a 40-year-old mom who has separated from her immature, work-focused husband (Michael Sheen, still somehow appealing in the role) and moved back to California to the palatial estate of her late father, a Cassavetes-like filmmaker who bedded and wed a succession of women, including Alice's mom, Lillian, played (delightfully) by Candace Bergen. (Seriously, Bergen is so natural and charming here that, despite my appreciation for Witherspoon, I almost wanted the movie to focus on Mom instead.)
After a rousing night out for her birthday that turns into a drunken after-hours party at her home, Alice wakes to find three guys at the house — one (Pico Alexander) who she almost bedded, and his brother (Nat Wolff) and bestie (Jon Rudnitsky) crashed out on the sofa. They're aspiring filmmakers with no place else to stay, and Lillian takes an immediate liking to them, so she convinces Alice to invite them to crash at the guest house. And no, that doesn't make sense, but Witherspoon and Bergen sell it, and the guys are mostly nice enough that we buy it. (Except Alexander. He's too smarmy to buy as even a temporary love interest for Alice, though he does grow up some.)
The guys turn out to be great father figures for Alice's girls and great to have around the house otherwise. But when Sheen's Austen crashes the party, the arrangement soon, predictably falls apart.
Meyers-Shyer gives Witherspoon some pretty good material, though a side plot about her attempt to launch a decorating career goes nowhere and wastes the talents of Lake Bell as her client from hell. Alexander's Harry is hot enough to believably catch Alice's eye, but I was rooting for her to notice Rudnitsky's George instead.
Regardless of the plot's missteps, Witherspoon makes it all seem so easy — which, as you should know, is the hardest task of all. Don't expect monumental things from Home Again, but you can expect the usual excellence from Witherspoon — and this time, that's enough.