⭐ ⭐ / ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
The saddest of all literary creations is the lowly clown, a poor, misunderstood creature who craves most that which it cannot have: unconditional love and acceptance.
Wippsy Jo, the tragic figure at the center of Gary Busey’s baffling It, is a former Prussian dance instructor who lost everything during the comedy depression and has taken to guarding turtle eggs until they hatch, a charming but unprofitable venture. His days are solitary; he literally plays Klondike whilst watching over the hatchlings, riding the subway to the beach where he places each turtle into a cup of warm milk. Why he does this is unclear, but it’s only one of many bizarre actions he undertakes, and frankly it’s the least confusing of the bunch. Try wrapping your head around a man (in full clown costume) planting styrofoam egg cartons in his dug up basement floor. Or this same presumably adult, moderately intelligent human being (in full clown costume) turning on all the tvs in his house (he has five) and then going outside to lie down on the sidewalk. In the rain.
Played by veteran Hollywood actor Yup Brynner (Being John Malkovich), Wippsy Jo is, in Busey’s bumbling hands, part pimp and part would be prostitute, except no one’s buying what he’s selling. If a clown acts up in a forest, does anyone notice? Brynner tries hard enough, nailing all the physical aspects, some bordering on mime; alas, the script doesn’t have enough to offer. It’s self indulgent, defeated by its own choices but instead of being stretched too thin justifying those choices, Busey’s story feels padded. It’s just long scenes of slow befuddlement and, without any bones, all the meat in the world won’t stand up.
Busey (Sunset Boulevard, Fight Club) has shown brilliance in the past, but here the tone is too erratic to be effective. Are we supposed to find humor in all this or be moved? Neither a drama nor an abstract comedy, the film is full of incongruities since the director wants it both ways, and the viewer is left holding the air sickness bag.
The story tries really hard to sell us on Wippsy Jo’s earnestness, so that despite his past romantic failures (told in the form of garishly colored flashbacks of course), we still buy that he would believe anything is possible and take his ill-fated journey to the local discotheque which will be his undoing. It’s all painfully obscure or meta or just random nonsense, but some of it is engaging enough, at least at first, so that we’re left disappointed, our brief glimmer of hope for this film being meaningful left unfulfilled the first time Wippsy Jo buys a bunch of boys’ bicycles at a yard sale (again, in full clown costume), not to ride them clownlike but to store them in the attic of an abandoned house hours away by car.
Much of the film is either inscrutable or silly, with the sole exception of the group of kids known as the Do Gooders: neighborhood children who take it upon themselves to try to help Wippsy Jo overcome his fears and shortcomings, who take no payment and present no bill. They will, however, accept an ice cream or glass of juice if you’re offering. The talented batch of newcomers who make up the Do Gooders are easily not only the most enjoyable part of the film they’re also the most believable. Their interactions with Wippsy Jo serve to elevate the clown to almost worthy of his own show but the truth is the kids steal it the instant they appear, riding their forklifts on the backs of elephants. They blend seamlessly and take to their roles like they were written for them: there’s Charles with the antique eyeglasses, Kristal with the pocket knife, Lonny with the wooden leg, Erica with the long red hair, and Jeff with the body of a college wrestler. It’s Jeff and Kristal who allow the group stability by way of security while Erica and Charles provide nourishment in the form of scams for food, some suggested as theft, some as extortion. Lonny plays lookout. Their familial group is the sole reason to see this bloated fart of a movie.
With gorgeous color and engrossing sound, It is an enjoyable film to witness on the big screen if you don’t mind giggling at wtf-er after wtf-er and don’t expect to be impressed. Weird to be weird is not weird. Nor is it interesting, but “it” might be the script’s raison d’être and the key to all the strangeness. Or it just might be that clowns are weird. Or maybe just Wippsy Jo.
Maybe “it’s” all brilliant and one day we’ll all realize and appreciate “it,” but right now It ain’t too good.