While It Chapter Two attempts to incorporate some of the ideas about homophobia that Stephen King originally wrote into his novel about a murderous, demon clown terrorizing a small town in Maine, the movie does so in such a clumsy, de-fanged way that by the end, you’re left with the sense that the filmmakers weren’t really willing to follow through on what they set out to do.
There are more than a few suggestions throughout It Chapter Two that Bill Hader’s Richie Tozier might be queer — like when Pennywise literally comes charging at him singing “I know your secret.” But the character never ends up actually saying that he isn’t straight. There’s a moment toward the end when Richie’s seen carving his deceased friend Eddie’s initial (Pennywise got him) alongside his, implying that Richie might have had feelings for him, but it’s all left unsaid, and somewhat open to interpretation.
Narratives about people who still aren’t prepared to openly embrace the truth about their sexual orientations are valid, but there are plenty of better ways to explore those ideas than having a character silently pine for his dead, presumably straight friend. The pain and anguish Richie experienced growing up in Derry and watching Eddie die is a prime storytelling opportunity if you know how to look at those ideas the right way — and while It Chapter Two doesn’t, really, Bill Hader certainly does.
It Chapter Two opens with a horrific, homophobic hate crime that Stephen King plucked from the headlines and incorporated into his 1986 novel. After a group of very human bigots attack Adrian Mellon and his boyfriend, they unceremoniously dump Adrian over the side of the bridge, and just as he begins to drown, he sees a figure beckoning him from the shore. A clown.
In a recent interview with Variety, Hader expressed a level of thoughtfulness about Richie’s interior self that, frankly, would have been absolutely fantastic to see reflected on the screen in It Chapter Two. Richie, Hader reflected, definitely has anxieties about his identity, and it’s precisely what Pennywise is targeting him for:
“Well I think Richie had, you know, an issue — especially growing up in a small town everything — with his sexuality. I think the real first time he ever actually, I think, felt love for somebody was Eddie, you know, in his own way of dealing with it. A lot of comedians... you know, you’re really funny, but you use comedy as a boundary between other people and also as boundary in your own feelings.
Pennywise says ‘I know your secret.’ It’s the thing that you don’t think anybody knows about. He doesn’t understand it about himself, probably. I think going back [to Derry] for him was having to kind of face that aspect of himself and what’s kind of tragic about the movie is that he can’t really consummate that with the person he loves. Not just in a sexual way but just in an actual emotional way.”
Everything that Hader’s saying is exactly the kind of complicated characterisation that you’d want from a nuanced depiction of a closeted person. Because It Chapter Two foregoes it in favour of the vaguest of suggestions that Richie might have had a crush on another boy when he was young, all the potential just ended up being largely squandered.