It’s taken a while for me to get around to seeing It. Not only because of logistical and timing issues, but because since seeing the Tim Curry version aged 9, I’ve been scarred by the thought of returning to Derry, and seeing any new iteration of that shitty clown!
I’ve seen it now though (went by myself, what the hell was I thinking?), and aside from being genuinely terrified and taken beyond any safe realms of tension, I really enjoyed it.
What stood out the most was the young cast. With the film having reset the time in which the story was originally set from the 50s to the 80s, it seemed obvious that the makers would be desperate to put together a bunch of child actors to rival our nostalgic favourites such as The Goonies and Stand by Me. They’ve done that, and done so well that it’s difficult to pick an MVP.
Many people I’d spoken to prior to watching It, cited Finn Wolfhard’s Richie Tozier as the standout role, and it’s easy to see why. He’s the loudest, the brashest, and gets the lion’s share of the gags. But when you’re garbed in huge, plastic rimmed glasses and given wacky dialogue, I think it’s difficult to get it that wrong.
What’s much harder is to deliver true pathos, with nuance and grace. Or to play the victim in a way that doesn’t come off self-pitying and weak. It has two such performers, and these young actors elevate the work, offering drama with great depth and imbuing their characters with such authenticity that we cannot help but empathise.
When your uncle is famed producer Brian Grazer (Apollo 13, Rush, 24), you know that it would only take a scrap of talent to get yourself in front of Hollywood’s cameras. I guess what the cynic in me is saying, is that the expectations for Jack Grazer weren’t high going in. He was really more of an ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ type of kid. But the cynic in me is a dick who needs punching.
In the 90s It TV movie, Eddie Kaspbrak is pretty one dimensional. He’s got the whole hypochondriac/victim of Munchausen’s Syndrome thing going on, but very little else. But in the 2017 film he shines, with an important arc encapsulating self-belief and strength. On its own, his story-within-the-story is a brilliant coming-of-age tale, deserving of its own film. The kicker is that much of this is due to Grazer’s performance, rather than it being stuffed into the screenplay as additions from the new film’s writers.
You can see the change in character through subtle looks Eddie gives and internal decisions he is making. It’s acting of the highest calibre, the stuff we’d expect from our most lauded performers, yet here lies such wondrous skill in a boy of 14.
And more than just the talent is the look. The kid has the face of a movie star, and the kind of charisma that tells you he will not be a child actor who washes up before puberty ends. This is a guy with star potential; a Josh Brolin of the future. Mark my words.
Beverly Marsh has easily the most difficult story for a young performer to comprehend and then convey through a camera lens. She is the victim of abuse; her brute of a father masking his sexual desires towards her by thrusting his guilt onto her (“I worry about you Bevvy, I worry a lot”). She’s damaged goods, and is the victim of a vicious rumour mill town, spreading sordid stories about her assumed promiscuity.
This is all compounded by her beauty. She at once abhors and accepts the lies about her; sometimes wallowing in the mire of her slutty reputation, whilst other times being overtly sexual with the local boys, enjoying her good looks and seeming body confident.
If the character were in her twenties or thirties, it would be easily imagined that Jennifer Lawrence might portray her to an Academy Award nomination. But as a very young girl, we’d be almost certain that the character would get lost in translation; leaving us with a Beverly who becomes little more than a victim.
But Sophia Lillis paints every single shade of the character. Her eyes are magnetic, and they tell the story of every single little tragedy that has created the mural of her mental state. She is fragile yet concrete hard. She is in desperate pursuit of normality, yet resigned to a life of uncertainty. At times you can see her questioning her own words, even as they exit her mouth; same goes for her feelings, particularly those she shares with her friends.
Hers is a genuine tour-de-force performance, deserving of awards praise alongside the great actresses of our time.
It is definitely going to be a film I re-watch over the years. But it won’t be for the scares, or the iconic clown teasing and torturing the poor children of Derry. It will be for the performances of the leads, and the chemistry between them that reminds us how much stronger we are when we have friends.
I can’t wait to see what these young actors do next.