'Pennywise: The Story of It' review: New documentary shows fun insight into the 1990 adaptation
Courtesy of Cinedigm
Audiences who saw the original 1990 “It” adaptation that was a two-part mini-series first shown on ABC probably remember the experience vividly. Especially, if like me, they saw the movie at a young age and forever had nightmares of Tim Curry’s ghoulish and incredible performance as the OG Pennywise The Dancing Clown, a soul-sucking monster who feasted on children’s fears. No disrespect to Bill Skarsgard who played Pennywise in the recent box office smashes “It” and “It: Chapter Two,” but Tim Curry is the goat and pushed the boundaries of the character beyond what author Stephen King could have possibly envisioned. So, it was a refreshing and fun trip down memory watching the new documentary “Pennywise: The Story of It,” a behind-the-scenes deep dive into the making, distributing, and friction that went into making the television phenomenon.
Featuring interviews with most of the original cast including Seth Green, Richard Thomas, Emily Perkins, Tim Reid, Dennis Christopher, Brandon Crane, director Tommy Lee Wallace, and Tim Curry himself, “Pennywise: The Story of It” encapsulates a moment in history many could have forgotten. It’s a breezy, sometimes elongated expenditure that tries connecting dots to narrative threads and behind the scenes tidbits which might have been more apt to live in the IMDB trivia section. Stories about the casting of minor side characters, the entire third act with the now infamous spider, and minor special effects caveats that are cool to explore, but taking precious time away from Curry, who looks and sounds great, rendered those inclusions moot. The movie runs over two hours and Curry gets less than six minutes of airtime.
Still, the turmoil director Tommy Lee Wallace shares about how ABC executives were spooked by the content and pushing the boundaries of network television, plus the producers and casting department sharing their recollections of the finding the right balance of adults and kids is fascinating (at one point, Malcolm McDowell was considered for the role of Pennywise, what a different movie that would have been?!) There’s even touching and emotional tributes to Harry Anderson, John Ritter, and Jonathan Brandis who brought a fair amount of levity to the project.
Co-directed by John Campopiano and Christopher Griffiths, who between them have an extensive background in these types of documentaries, “Pennywise: The Story of It” doesn’t leave many avenues unturned, even going as far to connect the recent strings of clown sightings back to the movie. Did we need an interview with a professional clown discussing why people have psychological reactions to their profession? Maybe, maybe not. The movie doesn’t always feel fluid and could have done more legwork to rise above the surface level, but “Pennywise: The Story of It” was made for the fans nostalgic for the movie’s origins and eventual cultural impact. Like Pennywise does to Georgie in the opening sequence in the book and movie, they’ll eat it up.
PENNYWISE: THE STORY OF IT debuts on digital platforms Tuesday, July 26th.