‘IT: Chapter Two’ Erases the Progress Beverly Made in ‘IT’
Jessica Chastain’s Beverly Marsh is dropped back into a victim role with no meaningful commentary on the cycle of abuse.
One of the greatest achievements of It: Chapter Two is the impeccable casting. Set twenty-seven years after the first film, the sequel follows The Losers Club as they return to Derry to defeat It once and for all. The adult cast includes James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Andy Bean, and of course, Jessica Chastain. For the most part, the characters are exactly as adult versions of the Losers should be.
Then, there’s Beverly Marsh.
I want to get one thing out of the way: this is not a knock on Jessica Chastain, or her acting ability. She has proven time and time again that she is a phenomenal performer, and deserves all the praise in the world. The blame for Beverly’s mishandling falls solely on the script. I should note that spoilers for It: Chapter Two follow.
It’s worth noting that It (2017) had three screenwriters credited for the final screenplay: Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman. It: Chapter Two only has one screenwriter credit: Gary Dauberman.
It’s hard to know what each of the three writers contributed to the first film, but what is indisputable is this: Beverly Marsh is written as a completely different character in the second installment.
When we first meet up with adult Beverly, she is living as a successful fashion designer — with an aggressively abusive husband. This would be fine if the script had anything to say beyond this, but it doesn’t. She simply leaves her husband after getting the call to come home from Mike, it’s never brought to light again. By the midway mark of the movie, it’s like it never even happened.
Sure, there are the bruises on her arms, visible in later scenes. Yet, we don’t see the how or why Beverly found herself in an abusive marriage. We don’t get to dive into the consequences of abuse and the effects it can have on a person. The abuse seems to be there simply to paint Beverly as a victim, nothing more.
So what happened to Beverly? Sophia Lillis was given the best arc of the Losers in It, overcoming the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father and rendering Pennywise incapable of scaring her anymore. She was also written and performed with a certain pluckiness; a devilish smirk would spread across Beverly’s face occasionally to remind us that life couldn’t keep her down. She was playful and charming, a great addition to the Losers Club.
Most of that charm is gone in Chapter Two, with Chastain giving her all in a role that’s woefully underwritten. Beverly is saddled with being the object of abuse, and later male affection, two elements that were handled much better in the first chapter of this duology.
Instead of giving Chastain anything substantial to chew on, she’s left to lament about vaguely remembering a kiss. Her abuse is continuously hinted at — or explicitly shown on screen — but nothing ever comes of it. There’s no cathartic moment for Beverly, no commentary on the cycle of abuse. It’s a frustratingly dull treatment of a character that once had vibrancy and meaning.
A moment of catharsis is attempted at the end, when Beverly realizes that Ben was the one that wrote her the poem all those years ago. At the end of the movie, she is with Ben on a boat, and gives a smile. The issue is, while this may seem cathartic on paper, it doesn’t play well on screen. Everything with Beverly seems shoehorned in, and the emotional beats ring hollow.
Meanwhile, Richie, played by Bill Hader, is given a well-written story arc that comments on homophobia and shame of one’s sexuality. Richie’s story comes full circle, and is given plenty of time to develop. It’s torture of Richie stems directly from his fear of being outed. There’s a theme within his character arc, which takes the audience on a rich, emotional journey.
Unfortunately, no such theme for Beverly’s arc is formed. After overcoming her abuser and finding confidence in her sexuality — the kiss with Bill in the first film — it seems like a mistake to throw her right back into the same position in the second installment. There is a difference between having a character grapple with repressed feelings (Bill and his lingering guilt over Georgie) and having a character completely regress back to being a victim for no apparent reason.
Something could be said for faithfulness to the source material; in King’s novel, Beverly also ends up marrying an abuser. But when Dauberman made significant changes elsewhere, it’s baffling that Beverly’s trajectory stayed the same. It feels as though the filmmakers simply didn’t know what to do with the character other than what was already on the page.
By the end of the film, I felt like Beverly, who was front and center of the promotional materials, was merely a side character in a movie led by men. Her presence was forgettable, despite Jessica Chastain’s best efforts. By stripping Beverly of the agency she gained at the end of the first film, Dauberman made a fatal mistake.
It: Chapter Two deserved better. Jessica Chastain deserved better. Beverly Marsh deserved better.