It Chapter 2 and The Goldfinch: A Very Similar Sequel and An Acute Adaptation
I hate to bad-mouth movies, I really do. Movies are hard work and even the bad ones can have their moments. I’d rather spend my writing energy praising a work of art but when I watch two disappointments in a row, I have to write about it. I can’t just let them sit unscathed.
It’s a good thing there are a lot of already acclaimed movies yet to come out this fall because September has been a rocky start. Two weeks, two book adaptations, two misfires. Well, It: Chapter 2 isn’t a complete disaster. The Goldfinch, on the other hand, may be Hollywood officially putting the book sleeve back on the hardback cover of the great, epic modern literary work and placing it on the shelf along with other lifeless Oscar bait adaptations. I’m kidding of course. So many amazing films have gleaned from literature. With more than 60 of the Best Picture winners adapted from literature as well as numerous nominees (fun fact: Casablanca is the only film in the 1940s to win Best Picture and not be based on a book), Hollywood without literature would be like a fish with one gill; it’d still be alive, it just wouldn’t be able to breathe as well.
It’s a good thing Warner Bros. has Joker garnering awards attention because The Goldfinch will not be woken up before September ends (Green Day has no connection here whatsoever, I just saw the opportunity I’m sorry).
First, let’s go to Derry, Maine where Pennywise makes his 27th year comeback, disrupting the Losers as grown-ups doing grown-up shit and adulting the hell out of adult life. Some of the things I loved so much about the first one are still here: Benjamin Wallfisch’s score (which is pretty much the exact same but I consider it a good thing because I love it), the comic relief (Bill Hader is masterful), the celebration of friendship, very eerie and disturbing moments with Pennywise, and Andy Muschietti’s sharp direction. Unfortunately, all the things I didn’t like about the first one and more were also there and almost a repeat of the first film. So much so that it overwhelmed the good stuff. Also, the dazzling and deftly crafted cinematography of the first movie was not here at all, giving Chapter 2 another reason to be forgettable.
The cast is fantastic, every one of them clearly having a good time getting scared by Pennywise, especially Bill Hader. The quiet moments of Chapter 2 are when it excels but there are only a few of those. One of them is a creepy scene in the darkness under a set of bleachers at a little league baseball game but even this scene just seems thrown in there to give us one more frightening scene involving Pennywise without a main character. Then when the main characters do individually deal with Pennywise, the jump-scares and scary fantasies become tedious and overdone. The movie really falters because it stays too loyal to the novel. The origins of It could have been left alone and unexplored and there are many superfluous sequences that would have cut down the movie’s runtime significantly had they been left out. Then the final climactic action is almost beat-for-beat with the first movie’s climax, and Pennywise becomes more silly than scary. Nevertheless, there’s still a movie here and an enjoyable one at that. I never felt the duration of the movie weighing on me and in the end it still has heart, though just to a slightly lesser degree than the first one.
The same can’t be said about The Goldfinch. After its bad press at the Toronto premiere I didn’t want to believe it. The trailer looked too good. Then the social media buzz and bad reviews buried it to the lowest depths of the Box Office. However, The Goldfinch proves that you can trust people sometimes, especially movie critics. There is not one compelling thing about this lamentable film. I have never read the novel but I am certain it should’ve had better or should’ve been left alone completely. This movie goes everywhere while going absolutely nowhere. There is so much that should’ve happened that didn’t and so much that did happen that shouldn’t have. Seriously, everything went wrong here. Young Theo (child actor Oakes Fegley outshining his adult counterpart Ansel Elgort) loses his mom in a terrorist bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art before he takes the famous Goldfinch painting with him, keeping it as a gesture to her since it was her favorite piece of art. However, this doesn’t make you feel bad for the kid because it’s so vague and unexplored. In fact, the only time I feel bad for Theo is when his deadbeat dad comes to New York City and takes him away from the wealthy, loving family (Nicole Kidman, always glowing, is the mom) Theo lives with to the hot, daunting desert of Nevada. There he meets Boris, a black-haired pale Russian played by Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things) who is a somewhat welcoming presence. These coming-of-age scenes in Nevada are the strongest parts of the film and that’s not saying much. The film is all over the place, leaving you gasping for a coherent plot and some semblance of a cohesive story. Ansel Elgort is fine but he can’t do much with the material he has. Nicole Kidman doesn’t have enough scenes. Jeffrey Wright as Hobie is great but in a dull scene that’s supposed to be sweet between him and young Theo, I found myself wishing I was watching him play his iconic Westworld role. Literally anything besides this. Maybe walk down the hall to another theater and revisit It: Chapter 2. I’d get more emotion there, that’s for sure. Then if there’s any tension to be had about the painting and Theo’s possession of it, it’s thrown out the window completely, leaving you sitting straight and center on your seat, the closest to the edge you’ll get is maybe slumping over and falling into a deep sleep.
The problem plaguing The Goldfinch is the same that plagues It: Chapter 2. It tries to take all of its source material to the screen when there is a lot that should’ve been left out or cut down. Somehow this movie is underwritten and overwritten. Including the relationship the whole movie is based on. We don’t see Theo’s mom until the end, right before she is killed in the explosion. Their relationship is hardly elaborated on past dialogue. There’s something involving a kid and cigarettes at the school in New York at the beginning that is literally never touched on again. My only take from it was a foreshadow to Theo’s friendship with Boris because the kid was black-haired and pale just like Boris? I don’t know.
Then there’s the overwriting and an absolute waste of talent focusing on Luke Wilson who is laughable as Theo’s dad and Sarah Paulson as his lover who somehow manages to make it work when she deserves so much better. There’s even a waste of a great soundtrack. Two great bands, Radiohead and Cigarettes After Sex, each have a song in two scenes that actually aren’t horrible because well, the songs make the scenes better. One of the best scenes of the movie are Theo and Boris tripping on LSD to Radiohead’s “Everything In Its Right Place” but even that only lasts for 10 seconds before yet another bombshell is dropped on Theo that’s supposed to hit you like a bag of bricks but instead leaves you groaning. Then there’s two sorely underwritten threads with a girl named Pippa who survived the bombing with Theo and a girl he partly grew up with New York City. Pippa comes and goes and nothing happens to her or between them except a decent scene with the Cigarettes After Sex song playing in the background at the restaurant they are sitting at. Actually, the song was the only decent thing about the scene, Pippa’s final (because she disappears again after this scene) monologue is not touching in the slightest because there is no substance surrounding it. Then all of a sudden, Theo is getting married to the younger girl he lived with and I don’t remember why or when this was happening and not because I fell asleep but because the movie glosses over it so quickly. There’s a scene where he comes to her apartment, jealous from seeing her with another guy and then two scenes later they’re getting married. It’s a puzzling experience.
Then a grownup Boris returns with a revelation about the painting and things really take a turn for the worse. The movie really goes off the rails, even taking us across the world to Amsterdam in a most ridiculous third act. There’s really no need to go into the details about it.
It’s amazing how hard the movie tries to say something deep and extraordinary when really it manages to say nothing at all. Poor John Crowley never had a chance. His directing is so straightforward and bland here, such a shame after the wonderful Brooklyn. Even Roger Deakins, who still shoots the hell out of this movie, brings his worst cinematography yet. That’s not saying it’s bad, Deakins can’t do wrong, it’s just not his best. The constant shallow focuses were more disorienting than the wonky editing. I was ready for the blurs that so often comprised the screen to fade to black for good, The Goldfinch never to be seen again. Maybe I’ll read the book someday and find something worthwhile there. Meanwhile, I’ll let poor Theo in this absurd, obsolescent adaptation whisk away for good. It’s hard to feel for a protagonist in a story about finding yourself after a tragedy when the real tragedy is the way the story is being told.
Stay tuned for my next two movies: Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers and the highly anticipated, can't-contain-my-excitement-so-it-better-live-up-to-the-hype-Brad-Pitt-is-a-stud Ad Astra.