Seven Great Thanksgiving Movies (That Aren’t Specifically About Thanksgiving)

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Many of us this Thanksgiving will be spending time with family and friends, and with that often comes a time where you need to pop in a movie. So, I’ve curated a list of Thanksgiving movies that could do the trick!

But there’s a catch: none of these movies are about Thanksgiving, take place at Thanksgiving, or are in any way related to the holiday. Instead, I think they embody the themes of Thanksgiving, including thankfulness, family, rest in the midst of busyness, cross-cultural communication and restoration. These seven films are listed in no particular order. 

(P.S: as always, before gathering the family around any of these movies, be sure to check the rating and content of these films to determine if they are appropriate for your audience) 

1. Horton Hears a Who! (2008)

This animated adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s beloved work is driven by the combined super-sonic energy of Jim Carey as the voice of Horton and Steve Carell as the mayor of Who-ville, along with clever visual gags and storytelling. The film is all about Horton caring and advocating for the dignity and protection of the Whos, and a sweet subplot about the Mayor coming to understand his son for who he is- and not who he wants him to be- makes the film a lesson in parental love, community, and tolerance, with the ever-important message that a person’s a person, no matter how small. 

2. The Space Between Us (2017)

This earnest teen romance is about Gardner (Asa Butterfield), the son of an astronaut, who is born on Mars and comes down to earth to meet his long-time penpal Tulsa (Britt Robertson). Tulsa and Gardner go on the run from NASA, pursued by Dr. Shepherd (a delightfully hammy Gary Oldman). Along the way, Gardner experiences life on Earth and shows a jaded Tulsa the beauty around her. 

On Earth, Gardner asks everyone he meets, “What is your favorite thing about Earth?” He helps people be grateful and realize how being alive is a gift unto itself. It’s an expression and exercise in thankfulness. Another driving storyline is Gardner trying to find his father, with the help of Tulsa, who is in the foster system herself and has never had a real family of her own. The revelation of Gardner’s father’s identity is, well, predictable, but like all of this movie, it’s so charming and sincere that it might make you hug your family members a little tighter this Thanksgiving.

3. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009)

Another animated film based on a beloved children’s book, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatball tells the story of Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) an oddball inventor/scientist who builds the machine that turns water into food, making food rain over the town. 

Most obviously, the food on display here is as scrumptious as your Thanksgiving spread, (although the film does take a dark turn into a warning against overconsumption), but there are other connections to Thanksgiving beyond the turkey. This film also focuses on the relationship between a father and son, and the importance of looking beyond each other’s eccentricities. It also shows the importance of taking responsibility for your actions and getting help from others, and that everyone has something to offer. 

4. Christopher Robin (2018)

Ewan McGregor stars as a grown-up Christopher Robin, now a jaded, workaholic father who finds himself playing again with his childhood friends like Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, and Piglet. The “dad you work too hard” narrative isn’t a new one by any means, but Christopher Robin is one of the best of the genre. Bringing Winnie the Pooh and company to life could easily veer into uncanny-valley territory, but Christopher Robin doesn’t, through marvelous special effects and some very game actors. Here are lessons about the importance of resting, not putting your identity in your work, and the value of childlike wonder. 

5. Little Miss Sunshine* (2006)

No movie quite puts the fun in dysfunction like Little Miss Sunshine! The family dramedy is a classic road trip film that pulls great performances out of its ensemble cast, including Steve Carrell, Abigail Breslin, and Paul Dano. Whether you identify with the Hoover clan or not, you can probably relate to the ups and downs of being with family, and the ultimate joy of strong family bonds. 

6. Coco** (2017)

Pixar’s film about a young boy traveling through the Land of the Dead during Dia de los Muertos is a gorgeous animated treat. While Dia de los Muertos isn’t the Mexican version of Halloween or Thanksgiving, it does touch on some of the same ideas as these holidays do. 

I said in my review of Coco that the film “acknowledges death, believes that there is an afterlife, teaches children that death isn’t something to be afraid of, and celebrates family.” Thanksgiving is a time often spent with family, and as such, it will be, for many of us, the first time without a certain family member, those who have passed away. Or maybe we are spending it alone, or are spending it with unsafe/toxic family members. Coco explores all of these dynamics and can be a comfort as you navigate this holiday and the rest of the holiday season. 

7. The Unknown Girl (2017)

This is one of my all-time favorite movies so I kinda just wanted to put it on the list so that more people will be aware of it, but it really does have Thanksgiving themes! After she refuses to open the door to a woman one night, Dr. Jenny Davins (a mesmerizing Adèle Haenel) learns the woman was murdered soon after. Dr. Davins, feeling guilty over not helping the woman, goes on a quest to learn the woman’s name and what happened to her, becoming unrelenting in the face of those who want to keep her silent. 

The movie is all about the question of our responsibility to strangers. How much of the suffering of others do we really need to care about? When tragedy hits a community, what should be the community’s response? How much should we put ourselves on the line to cross cultural boundaries and thresholds? What does it mean, practically, to believe in the sanctity of life and give someone dignity posthumously? I believe Thanksgiving is a time to survey our communities and their culture, and ask these kinds of questions. 

*Thanks to Scott Morris for the suggestion!
**Thanks to Kaitlin Glasgow for the suggestion!

One Day I Hope To Pay For This Movie With a $20 Bill With Her Face On It: Harriet

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Harriet is the first film about the famous underground railroad conductor, Harriet Tubman. Directed by Kasi Lemmons, Harriet will finally break ground on an overdue story. While this would usually give the film an edge, it has been plagued with various criticisms since its announcement, which has hampered public excitement. I think several of the critiques are understandable and worth considering, and I would recommend reading responses by black critics for more insight. However, for this review, there wasn’t any criticism that I agreed with that pertains to the film directly. 

Harriet is, in many ways, a by-the-numbers biopic. Sometimes Oscar-bait speeches and historical reverence threaten to bring it down. However, those moments never bring down the film too much. There are a couple of reasons why I think Harriet is able to rise above being a subpar biopic into a great film.

  1. There simply aren’t a lot of biopics of black women.
  2. There is a strong emphasis on family, and it’s genuinely touching to see Harriet’s family play such a key role here. It helps humanize her and balance out the more superhero-esque feel the movie tries to go for. 
  3. Harriet’s Christian faith is leaned into. There are moments of this film that remind me of Luc Besson’s The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc. Harriet is not nearly as stylized or flat-out weird as that film (although explicit connects between Harriet and Joan of Arc are made) but it does take Harriet’s religion seriously. One of the reasons I love The Messenger is because when I saw it, I realized it was the first time I had seen a movie focus on, and take seriously, a woman’s religious faith. 
  4. There are several stylistic choices (including the depictions of her visions) that elevate the film and make it feel worthy of the big screen. 
  5. The whole cast is wonderful. Lesley Odom Jr. and Janelle Monae are excellent and charismatic, and director Kasi Lemmon’s son Henry Hunter Hall, in particular, is a surprise. He has a cool “look” and is a scene-stealer. Joe Alwyn is fine as the (mostly fictitious) son of Harriet’s owner. In all honesty, though, I spent most of his screen time thinking about how strange it is that he’s dating Taylor Swift, and that his southern accent is pretty good for a Brit
  6. And speaking of Brits, Cynthia Erivo is our titular hero, and she’s incredible. There are two aspects to her performance that stuck out in particular. First is Erivo’s acting in the scenes where Harriet arrives in Philadelphia and has to learn how to be free. I had never considered this- acting free after a lifetime of enslavement- as a difficulty freed African Americans had to face, but Erivo is able to wordlessly communicate Harriet navigating through this new world through observation and imitation of those around her. And second, Erivo conveys a deep inner life of Harriet that we aren’t privy to. I always felt like Harriet, no matter how quiet she was being, had an incredibly complex mind and a thousand thoughts going at any given moment. 

Harriet is American History, biopic, slavery, and feminist storytelling 101. It’s a primer that will hopefully be an access point for many people. I don’t mean this to be derogatory in the least; this means I want another movie about Harriet Tubman, and other movies about all sorts of black women and other heroes (or villains) of history. 

After all, Harriet Tubman’s last words were, “I go to prepare a place for you.” It seems in that spirit that Harriet will hopefully help prepare a place for even more stories like it, stories that can go even further, higher, and deeper. 

As Filling As A Twinkie: Zombieland: Double Tap

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Zombieland: Double Tap, the sequel to 2009’s Zombieland, takes place ten years after the events of the first movie. As a voiceover from Columbus tells us, the crew- Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin)- have become a close-knit family and expert zombie killers. But when Little Rock runs off and new, more dangerous zombie types emerge, Wichita, Tallahassee, and Columbus go on a road trip to rescue Little Rock and find a new safe haven. 

The most important thing to know about Double Tap is that it is remarkably similar to Zombieland, which is a feat for two movies that have a ten-year difference. Both are goofy, poorly paced, self-indulgent, charming in small doses, and have inconsistent characters. If you liked the first one, you’ll like this one, because it feels like such a natural extension of the first, from the atmosphere, internal logic, comedy style, and gross-out violence, to the resolute refusal to use the zombies and apocalyptic setting for any kind of social commentary. It’s a straightforward movie about killing zombies. That’s what you get. 

Propelling this straightforward story is the exceptional cast, which continues to be the most compelling part of these movies. The only thing that would help would be if their characters were written with any consistency, but the movie gets to cheat by relying on the actor’s personas and outside affiliations. For example, Harrelson and Eisenburg have great chemistry, but the relationship dynamic between Tallahassee and Columbus fluctuates wildly throughout the two movies. However, the actors have a similar, but more concrete, relationship dynamic between their characters in the Now You See Me movies, and so my love for those movies and my liking of their dynamic there just carries over. Similar things could be said about Emma Stone and Rosario Dawson’s characters, which both borrow heavily from their respective actor’s typecasts. 

Abigail Breslin is, unfortunately, the weakest link. The movie doesn’t know what to do with her, so she ends up being a plot device more than a person. This was disappointing, as she is a great actress and I have a personal fondness for her (I looked a lot like her when I was 9 or 10, and my film preferences and personal aspirations were heavily shaped by her roles in Nim’s Island and Kit Kittredge: An American Girl. Those movies rock). 

After I saw Double Tap, I asked the group I was with if this movie was for or against the second amendment, as it talks a lot about guns and much of the plot focused on when our heroes are armed or disarmed. While our heroes love guns, the climax cleverly removes them from the characters and forces them to defeat the zombie in another way (this makes the climax a lot better than that of the first Zombieland, and is also similar to the ending of The Three Amigos). After this philosophizing, my friends looked at me blankly, and then one, with insight I can only aspire too, said: “I think the zombies change things.” And she was right, and I realized the movie probably didn’t put that much thought into it. 

Double Tap doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel or build upon the first one. And while I generally prefer more ambition in movies and more effort, I saw this after a rough week and it was exactly what I needed. It truly is escapism with the flimsiest excuse for existing, and that, in moderation, is perfectly okay. Just like this film. 

-Madeleine D.

We Live in a Society: Joker

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*Spoilers below

Why is Joker so divisive?

The new origin movie about Batman’s greatest villain has been the center of numerous controversies, and most occurring before the film was even released. 

I think more than anything, Joker and several other recent flicks (Captain Marvel, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Green Book, to name a few) prove that movies are still relevant in our culture because they are avenues for people to talk about deeper issues. Movies are mirrors, and people see different things in them. Joker sure seemed to want to be taken seriously as it marketed itself as a gritty, realistic, and edgy film.  

To help explain the wildly different reactions I’ve seen from people about Joker, I’ve come up with three main ways people are interpreting the film. These are generalizations, sure, but overall I think whichever interpretation you have of Joker will predict your reaction to it, and these may help you understand why someone else can see the exact same film and feel completely different than you. 

1. The world sucks. I hate my parents. The Man is out to get you. Life is suffering and pain. We need to take to the streets or something and get rid of all authority so we can all live free. People don’t care about you. Knock know, who’s there? Boom! Gunshot! You’re dead. 

Joker plays like the graffitied poetry under the desk of a 13-year-old edgelord who has become aware enough of the world to know there is suffering but is not mature enough to know how to engage with it or others. The film is self-absorbed and pretentious, wanting to be serious but ending up hollow and derivative. It’s dark but not deep. Director Todd Phillips and star Joaquin Phoenix have stated disdain for comic book movies, but what they have made is completely dependent on comic book movies, both for artistic precedent and the film’s box office. It is not as shocking or interesting as many of its peers. Some people have feared that Joker would provide rationale for violence, but the film is so half-baked that I don’t think that is much of a concern. We shouldn’t be giving Joker this much attention- it is embarrassingly shameless in its desire to provoke without actually questioning or confronting anything.  

The film shouldn’t even exist on principle. Joker is a character whose menace comes from not having a clear background or motivation. By rationalizing everything about him through an origin story, this core component of the character is destroyed. Also, this is the third feature-film adaptation of the Joker we’ve had in ten years, and yet it’s still in question if women or people of color can get their own movies. It’s exhausting that we can’t share the spotlight with other characters and properties. 

 

2. Joker is a much-needed wake-up call about our country’s mental health crisis and the marginalized in our society. We need to take care of our unseen citizens and be kinder to everyone we meet, or we can only be held responsible when things devolve. 

Todd Phillips uses comic book tropes and the genre’s current popularity to tell a story many people wouldn’t otherwise see or care about. Despite working within the studio system, this film really does speak truth to power. 

The film is set in the 1980s, but it’s extremely relevant to today. With the likes of President Trump, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk, the top 1% have too much power and influence our day to day lives, and it’s clear they don’t care about us. This goes for everyone from billionaires like Thomas Wayne to the talk show hosts who make fun of regular people who accidentally become viral sensations, usually for humiliating purposes. 

Joker shines a light on how mental health resources are being taken from people, how social services are underfunded, and the current trash problem in New York Ci- I mean Gotham. The human condition is explored unflinchingly, and by the end of it, it’s easy to see how this world could make anyone go mad, especially someone who is as vulnerable as Arthur/Joker. 

The plotline about Arthur maybe being Thomas Wayne’s son and therefore Bruce/Batman’s half-brother adds so much to their dynamic and cements this idea of them being two sides of the same coin. The only difference between them is their environment. Bruce grew up wealthy and privileged. Arthur didn’t, and like he points out in the film, that’s the reason that if he was lying dead in the streets, people would just step over him. It’s only when you’re wealthy and powerful do people care. 

The soundtrack slaps, Joaquin Phoenix is truly phenomenal here, and it’s exciting to see the DCEU (DC Extended Universe) continue to make films with an emphasis on auteur directors and their visions. Joker delivers on all fronts and will surely bring new blood into the superhero- or should I say supervillain?- genre. 

 

3. The most troubling thing about Joker is that it makes its titular character out to be the hero of the 99%, which, dear viewer, is you. In the eyes of the film you are either someone who has been screwed by the system and is righteously angry against it, or you are someone who is so led by pure aggression and hatred that you commit acts of violence and find a clown-faced murderer to be the symbol of your cause. 

The final protest scene in Joker, which is directly instigated by Arthur’s actions,  borrows imagery from various real-world protests, from the current ones in Hong Kong to the Black Lives Matter movement. In fact, the scene where Joker is laid on the police car reminded me of Starr’s climactic speech on top of a car in last year’s criminally underrated The Hate U Give. But what does this mean?

Yes, as Joker insists, he’s not political. He’s not the reason people are angry. But his actions are the tipping point. When protestors lay him, crucifixion style, on the police car, he becomes the symbol of the protests. 

If the protests are justified because people have been mistreated, then does Joker becomes absolved of all personal responsibility because he too has been mistreated and is simply calling out his oppressors? Is he some sort of folk hero of the marginalized? Is there a point where society can push you and mistreat you so much that it is to blame for your actions? 

But if this Joker is the truly monstrous Joker from Batman lore, then how do you feel that Todd Phillips aligns you, the 99%, with the Joker? That your protests, what you think is righteous anger, is really made of the same base, primal, chaotic urges that Joker acts upon? You are so easily manipulated. You are sheep. 

Perhaps most troubling of all is that Joker shows all the ways society fails people without offering any solutions or hope. 

Video essayist Lindsay Ellis points out in her piece about the 2005 Rent movie adaptation that, “A light, user-friendly sort of anarchy does not work in a narrative about the AIDS crisis because there is nothing noble about extolling the virtues of quietly giving in to your disease when there is a system right there that can help… but you reject it because f*** the man, I’m not a part of your system!… It reinforces a worldview in which the only way to rebel against a system is to reject it…It gives you a sense of power, in a world that makes you feel powerless. But in reality, the only thing it fosters is actual powerlessness. Because in rejecting the system, you are not only failing to tear it down, but you are forfeiting any voice within it” (42:44 – 43:54). 

This is exactly what Arthur/Joker is doing. At the beginning of the film, Arthur is trying to be a good person, even when it is difficult. He takes his medicine for his various illnesses that aren’t named (this decision is questionable in itself but that’s another discussion). But because of the events of this film he gives up and embraces the villain the world has made him be (in light of everything else that is revealed about his past, the events of the film don’t seem dramatic enough on their own to spiral him further down, but oh well). 

He stops trying to change the system or hold it accountable and instead gives into his psychosis, and advocates anarchy. And while it may not make him more powerless, as he is a fictional villian, it makes an impressionable viewer powerless. 

For a film that tries to diagnose society and rage against it, it ends up looking a lot like the society it critiques- passive, wallowing, angry, violent, and without any solution. Nihilism may feel rebellious and exciting, but it isn’t compelling. 

-Madeleine D. 

*A special thank you to my friend Shea, who has been my movie-going-buddy for years. Her thoughts are present throughout this blog, but especially here. Thanks for taking an hour-long walk with me after seeing this film to let me talk it out!

I Kind of Believe In: Yesterday

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Caution: spoilers

Yesterday is based on this intriguing premise: What if the whole world forgot about the Beatles, except for one guy? Like most movies with an intriguing premise, the challenge becomes making the premise stretch the length of a feature film and have something to say besides, “Isn’t this premise cool?” 

The final product is something that has, outside of its premise, three things going for it, and three major problems. 

The Good:

1. Winning performances. Himesh Patel as Jack and Lily James as Ellie are both charming in their roles and have the chemistry to sell their romance. The supporting cast is quirky and adds to the hyper-reality of the film. Even Ed Sheeran, I have decided after much thought, does a good job at portraying the worst version of Ed Sheeran. 

2. There is occasionally great directing from Danny Boyle. A few sequences have a perfect balance of humor and heart and creative cinematography. And this is more to the credit of the screenplay then the director, but the film goes out of its way to give Jack a well-rounded, fleshed out adult life that feels more substantial than most protagonists get. In other words, I believe that Jack has a real job he goes to and friends he has long histories with and neighbors he sees on the regular. It goes a great distance in making him likable and making the world of the story feel familiar, even when it strays into magical-realism. 

3. The Beatles’ music is great. It’s hard to mess that up. 

The Bad:

1. That said, the film kinda messes it up. Not the music itself, but everything else that was significant about the Beatles. By focusing solely on the music and not the context of how and when the music was made, or the lives of the men who made it, the film never comes to a clear consensus on why the Beatles are legendary. 

The Beatles made history because they interacted with history. They were controversial and activists and innovators. Some people argue that art isn’t inherently political, and good music should be timeless. Perhaps that is true for some musicians, but it’s not for the Beatles. So yes, while the movie is right in that music brings us together, the narrative surrounding that music does just as much work in bringing people together (or driving them apart). 

2. The commentary on the music business is broad and outdated. The comedy goes from witty satire to zany comedy in seconds, and the inconsistency doesn’t work, ultimately not saying anything of substance. Kate McKinnon gets a few good zingers in as a music producer, but even she can’t save the underbaked sell-out side plot. 

3. The love story is cute but weak. Ellie is a perfect example of a very real phenomenon where (typically) a woman becomes a guy’s girlfriend or wife in all the ways except the title, and he benefits from her love and affection (and service) without committing to her in return or giving anything up. She waits for him to define the relationship and move forward, but he never does because why should he? He can just keep her in perpetual relationship limbo. 

Ideally, Ellie is a character that women in a similar situation could watch and say, “wow, I’m in a relationship that is likewise very one-sided and I should treat myself with more respect and expect more from him.” But I don’t see this happening. Why? Because there aren’t any consequences for Jack for treating Ellie this way. After he realizes the errors of his way (which only comes after she goes through a lot of pain to finally confront him about it) he announces his love for her in a big, grand, public gesture that puts her on the spot (which you should never do without permission). She accepts it, and so he doesn’t have to do any work of rebuilding trust. In the end, he gets everything he wanted, including a relationship with her that is built off of years of her following him around, catering to his every need, being constantly-available emotional support, being his biggest fan, and waiting for him to make a move. Her character is not made for women to relate to, because she is framed solely through the male gaze. She’s the perfect girlfriend, a prize for Jack to finally accept after he’s done one good deed (tell the world he was lying about the Beatles). 

At one point in the film, Kate McKinnon’s music producer character says of a song: “I hated it but wasn’t interested enough to listen to it again to find out why.” That’s brutal. And it’s kinda true of this movie. I didn’t hate Yesterday, not by a long shot. But Yesterday loves the Beatles and romantic relationships without knowing why, and until it goes back and finds out, there’s not much there, and it’s not interesting enough for me to revisit. 

 

Documentary Films to Create Cinematic Universe

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New York City, NY- A press release by Focus Features announces that the film distribution company will be partnering with multiple acclaimed documentary filmmakers to create a new cinematic universe. 

“Between February of 2020 and June of 2024, we’ll be in Part One of our six-part cinematic universe roll-out,” the press release said. “Each of the twelve documentaries that will be released in this time will have a larger storyline that tells a sweeping, yet intimate, story about mankind.”

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and 20 Feet From Stardom director Morgan Neville told reporters, “All future documentaries from Focus Features will take place in the same cinematic universe, with crossover from different characters in each film.” Neville is reportedly going to direct the first film that will kick off the cinematic universe. 

Scott Hamilton Kennedy, best known for his Oscar-nominated documentary feature The Garden told reporters, “Cinematic universes are the newest thing. They’ve been a gamechanger, and we want to get on board.” Kennedy is another one of the first directors to contribute to the cinematic universe. His documentary, Ramsey, about the life and career of TV personality and 16-Michelin Star chef and restauranteur Chef Gordon Ramsey, will be released in August 2020 as the third installment.

“Part of my role is not only to tell a story that can stand on its own, but also weave together the previous two films and then set up the next storyline,” he explained. “The film coming after mine [the fourth installment in the cinematic universe] is a documentary about Sojourner Truth. It’s going to be told using old letters from her and some animation, really cutting edge stuff. Since they are a part of the same cinematic universe, though, we want Sojourner to make an appearance in my Gordon Ramsey documentary, to tease the next film and to give the fans something they’ve always wanted.”

When asked if seeing a CGI replica of Sojourner Truth be a cameo as a customer in one of Ramsey’s restaurant was something audiences have, in fact, “always wanted,” Kennedy said yes. “There’s going to be an in-universe explanation for why these two characters are interacting,” he added. “I can’t give too much away, but there is an organization that is bringing all of these figures together.”

“What is the point of the documentary cinematic universe?” Focus Features chairman Peter Kujawski wrote in a statement. “The point is to get audiences, who traditionally have overlooked documentaries, to give the form another chance. Watching a documentary can be really exciting when you realize it’s telling a larger story.”

The first film of the cinematic universe, Mammoth: Discovered, about the history of woolly mammoths, directed by Luc Jacquet (March of the Penguins) will be released on February 7th, 2020. It is rumored that the woolly mammoths in the film will introduce a secret time-traveling organization into the cinematic universe, which will be apart of the overarching storyline. 

The cinematic universe has no official title yet, but has been running under the unofficial name the “DCEU” (documentary cinematic expanded universe). 

 

[Editorial Note: This post is satire, and is thus fake, and exists basically to make you laugh]

The Horror of Following up a Massive Sucess: IT Chapter Two

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The first IT movie is the highest-grossing R-rated horror film with $700.4 million at the worldwide box office. Based on Stephen King’s 1986 novel, the movie became a critical and commercial success. The search for an adult cast to play the main characters- aka “the Losers”- was highly publicized and scrutinized. With a cast evenly divided between marquee stars and unknowns, IT Chapter Two has a lot riding on its shoulders. 

Did it succeed in bringing this grand epic to a satisfying conclusion? 

Yes and no. 

IT Chapter Two has more scares (in part because of its nearly three-hour running time) but they’re different than the first. For one, there is less Pennywise, and instead, IT takes different forms. The different forms are usually grotesque, vaguely-human forms that do gross things. The body horror element freaked me out, but some of the people I went with found it funny, so it just depends on your sense of humor. They’re creative, but not as psychologically disturbing as the first film. 

Besides the scares, there’s not much else that this second movie does that’s different than the first. When it comes to the character arcs, plot, and tone of the movie, everything is just about the same. In the first film, we meet the characters individually, then the team comes together, they split up for individual sequences where IT reveal more about their characters, and then they come together in the sewers to try to kill Pennywise. That’s exactly what happens in this film too. Add in all the flashbacks and callbacks to the first film, and this second feels like it’s just an expensive remake with an older cast. 

Readers of the book will no doubt be disappointed. The book spends time establishing the Losers in their adult lives, something the film doesn’t have time to do well. The book also develops the theme of the adult Losers losing their memories and having to re-learn about Derry and Pennywise (the film only tangentially explores this theme). By doing this, the reader understands how the Loser’s childhood traumas influenced their adult selves and how that changes their relationship to IT and to each other. To not have that in this second film creates a barrier between the audience and characters, and weakens the message the filmmakers are going for. 

Leah Schnelback writes in her excellent review of the film for Tor, “Your real life can turn into a horror story any time—the check didn’t clear, the doctor needs to speak with you in person… You remember again that your carefully constructed life is an illusion that can crack apart without warning. When we go to a horror movie we pay to have this experience…Part of the contract is that the nightmare moments might slip the bounds of reality—that we’ll become children again, in thrall to a fairy tale full of monsters and things that can’t possibly happen. This is what IT is about… The opening half-hour of the film is almost completely taken up with human monsters—psychotic homophobes, abusive husbands… This group of adults who have all experienced real-life horrors have to learn to be kids again so they can defeat a mythological monster.”

That opening half-hour is not enough time to explore these adult lives, and that blunder plagues the entire film. The “real-life horrors” feel inconsequential because we barely get to see them before we get to Pennywise.

It sure doesn’t help also that while the adult cast is incredibly well-matched with their teenage counterparts in terms of looks and mannerisms, they lack the same chemistry as the younger group. This is in part because they don’t spend that much time together in the movie. The plot keeps separating them, making the scenes when they are together and are talking about their close bond ring false. 

Also ringing false is the film’s explanations of Pennywise. Instead of letting him be terrifying because he’s mysterious and unknowable, the film tries to explain the mythology behind Pennywise and the demon-alien thing it comes from, the IT. It makes the plot more convoluted and the film fails to justify why we even need to understand his origins in the first place. In some cases it’s okay not to explain “the why”.  

~

IT Chapter Two starts out with a voiceover from Mike talking about how memory is selective and we are often just as much the things we make ourselves forget as we are the things we choose to remember. The whole film ruminates on the idea of memory, with the adult Losers spending the majority of the running time trying to reconnect and remember their childhood selves. 

There’s something interesting here about how it takes courage to confront the memories we’d rather forget, and how we aren’t fully ourselves until we can see all of ourselves. It’s only then when we can truly connect to other people. But because we don’t get a sense of how the Losers forgot their childhoods in the first place, or what they do with themselves after they kill Pennywise for good, and they spend little time connecting to each other in meaningful ways, this entire theme falls flat. Instead, we just get some new scares and scenes meant to remind us of the first movie. There’s very little substance. 

It seems like the knowledge that the first film was a success is what has kept this film from succeeding. The unassuming innocence of the first is lost, and this second entry feels like it’s trying too hard and won’t stray far enough to be unique. 

Yet, I have to admit, I had a great time watching it. It was the perfect escapist adrenaline kick for me with scares that were scary but not too scary, and not disturbing enough to stick with me late at night. But that also means nothing from the film is going to stick with me, and that’s a shame.

-Madeleine D.