'It: Chapter 2' Spoilers: Bill Hader Is the Best Part of a Mediocre Movie
When we first meet Bill Hader’s grown-up version of bespectacled, foul-mouthed Richie Tozier in It: Chapter Two he bursts out of a backstage door and barfs into the sky, nearly hitting the camera with bile. He’s just received a call from fellow Losers’ Club member Mike Hanlon about returning to Derry, Maine after 27 years to destroy It the demon clown once and for all.
Through some classic Stephen King dark magic, the Losers have forgotten everything about Derry and the monster that plagues it every 27 years. So when each of them receives this call, they have a visceral physical reaction. But Hader’s response to the call is the most powerful by far as he barfs onto the pavement moments before walking on stage to perform a comedy routine — and this isn’t the only barf joke Hader bestows upon us in It: Chapter Two either.
Light spoilers for It: Chapter Two ahead. Nothing major, but if you want to go in fresh maybe bookmark this page and come back after you’ve seen the movie.
Hader requests whiskey and a mint as he trots backstage, and within moments it materializes. He’s chattering to some kind of assistant all the way, making sharp quips and comments — almost immediately, you know he’ll be the best part of this movie. Next thing you know, his set begins. Hader launches into a routine about Facebook and masturbation before losing his footing and coming to a full stop. Someone in the audience shouts something like, “You suck.” Richie is embarrassed and confused, and you can practically feel it.
We all knew Hader had acting chops after HBO’s Barry, but It: Chapter Two will show an even wider audience that this Saturday Night Live is more than just a funny face.
The tone that Richie’s experience takes here and throughout the rest of the movie is singular among a somewhat generic formula. Throughout the movie, each Loser goes on a parallel journey through their memories and their deepest fears, but Richie’s strikes a blend of drama, comedy, and palpable anxiety, setting the tone for a performance that some critics claim make Hader worthy of an Oscar nomination.
In Stephen King’s It novel, Richie grows up to be a famous radio DJ living in Beverly Hills, but in the Chapter Two adaption, he’s transformed into a talkative stand-up comedian who’s even more famous. This plays well within the movie. Whether he’s screaming at a real kid he mistakes for a vision or barfing again when he’s forced to kill, Hader’s performance is ridiculous, fun, and earnest. As the younger Richie, Finn Wolfhard comes across as purposefully irritating, but Hader brings a kind of manic maturity to the role that’s endlessly likable.
It’s not just because we remember him fondly as one of SNL’s best cast members. It’s because Bill Hader is a damn good actor. He’s also a weird funny guy getting paid to play a weird funny guy. It just clicks.
Not only does Bill Hader steal the show in It: Chapter Two, commanding every scene even when the full cast is present, but he’s also the emotional core of the entire story. When his friends are paralyzed by confusion and indecision, he’s always there to crack a joke and cajole everyone along. He’s also the first who, smartly, considers running away as the best option. But the character’s journey into self-actualization as a homosexual further contextualizes Richie’s experience in a richer way than any of his fellow Losers.
It: Chapter Two’s first act brings the Losers together again back in Derry over a meal in a Chinese restaurant, and almost immediately Richie uses it as an opportunity to mock his old friend Eddie Kaspbrak. In one of his best jokes, he accuses Eddie of marrying a woman with ten times his body mass. It’s so close to being a really lame fat joke, but it lands well enough that every one of the Losers laugh with the audience.
This has always been their dynamic: Eddie’s a nervous hypochondriac who’s obsessed with his mother and married a woman just like her, while Richie “Trashmouth” Tozier sees all this as primo fuel for comedy. It’s a delight watching the group bond after so much time apart, especially when it allows Hader’s Richie to be so performative and funny.
It: Chapter Two transforms subtext from the novel that Richie might’ve been gay into overt text. Hader’s Richie is a closeted homosexual who might’ve been in love with the now-deceased Stanley Uris (who commits suicide after receiving the call from Mike). But by the end of It: Chapter Two, we’re led to believe that Richie may have also pined after Eddie. From an acting standpoint, Bill Hader has far more to do in It: Chapter Two than even Jessica Chastain as Beverly Marsh or James McAvoy as Bill Denbrough, both of whom are essentially sold to us as the leads while Hader is pitched as comic relief.
In the film’s second act, each of the Losers has to recover some kind of token/artifact from their childhood that they can sacrifice for the Ritual of Chud. These vignettes mostly rehash the same fears and anxieties we saw them grapple with in the first movie. Here, it includes flashbacks featuring the younger actors in new but familiar perilous circumstances.
For Richie, that means bonding with a boy — the cousin of bully Henry Bowers — over some Street Fighter in an arcade, before the Bowers bullies him with homophobic slurs. Young Richie wanders into the nearby park, upset and alone. Hader’s adult Richie revisits the memory in the arcade and also winds up in the park. There, he’s confronted by a giant Paul Bunyan statue that’s come to life, an icon of hyper-masculinity that appears in King’s novel as well. Pennywise even appears to him, taunting Richie about his “secret.”
In all this, Richie’s personal journey in the war against It is about much more than just survival. It’s about self-discovery and coming to terms with his own sexuality in a more nuanced and compelling way than King ever managed in the novel. Everyone else’s story feels much simpler by comparison, and Hader sells Richie’s incredibly well.
When the dust has settled on the final battle, it’s Richie who has the most visceral emotional reaction to the trauma they’ve just gone through. All of his friends surround him in a group hug, and it elicits a powerful emotional response from the audience that makes you want to also hug Bill Hader. In a mostly uneven story that does too little with too bloated a runtime, Hader is the one brilliant part of It: Chapter Two that makes it worthwhile.
In a mostly uneven story that does too little with too bloated a runtime, Hader is the one brilliant part of It: Chapter Two that makes it all worthwhile.
It: Chapter Two is now playing September 6, 2019.