WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for It: Chapter Two, in theaters now.
It: Chapter Two has an interesting problem to contend with, narrative-wise. With so much of the story centered around combatting Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) after he returns to Derry twenty-seven years after the events of the previous film, not much time is left for on-screen growth.
All three versions of It (the original novel, the television miniseries and now this film) feature Bill (James McAvoy) dealing with survivor's guilt, Bev (Jessica Chastain) coming to terms with herself and Ben (Jay Ryan) rediscovering just how deep his feelings for Bev are. But the remaining three members of the group -- Mike (Isiah Mustafa), Richie (Bill Hader) and Eddie (James Ransone) -- typically get less character development and exploration in past versions of this story.
That's definitely not the case for Richie in this new version of the film, however. By tweaking the character and making him a gay man who's always hidden that side of himself, It: Chapter 2 gives Richie a much more resonant and compelling arc.
HOW RICHIE IS CHANGED
Out of the original four friends from Derry, Richie has always been the "funny" one. He's always quick with a joke both when he's a child and an adult. In fact, he's become a successful stand-up comedian in his later life.
The jokes often paper-over his insecurities throughout his life, especially when something threatening like Pennywise is on the scene. This is most notably shown when the Losers split off to find their "tokens" in the second act of Chapter 2. Described as specific items that each of the Losers has a specific personal connection with, the tokens require everyone to split off on their own and confront painful memories they'd tried to escape.
For Richie, it's a videogame token from the local movie theatre. The movie flashes back to the time period of the original movie and, unlike the other Losers, doesn't find an initially distressing memory. At first, it's even happy. A younger Richie (Finn Wolfhard) is playing Street Fighter with a boy visiting from out of town. The two joke around, but when the game is over Richie asks him to play another round.
The extended touch of their fingers, the genuinely affectionate way Richie asks him -- all of it plays as Richie having a bit of a crush on this boy. Things take a turn though when the boy insults him for it and then, for good measure, turns out to be the cousin of the cruel bully, Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton). Henry joins in on the insults, screaming at Richie to leave.
DIRTY LITTLE SECRET
It's something that weighs on Richie, even in the present day. When Pennywise confronts Richie, he taunts him because he knows Richie's "dirty little secret". It's implied that Richie has never really confronted those emotions, instead quietly remaining in the closet. The only mention he ever makes of a girlfriend is a hackneyed joke from his comedy special that he reveals he didn't write.
Part of that might come from the very public rejection he got when he tried the most innocent version of this in his youth. His unrequited affection for the other boy is almost played exactly how the younger Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) felt about Bev (Sophia Lillis), and it's a really tragic beat for the character.
After seeing Pennywise and being forced to relive those experiences, Richie almost turns his back on the rest of the group and leaves Derry. He's only stopped by another, more positive memory: the bar mitzvah for his friend and (now fallen) fellow Loser, Stanley (Wyatt Oleff).
Richie seems to accept who he is after this speech, taking pride in being himself. Another small revelation actually balloons this revelation into a more impactful change to Richie's connections to another character as well, playing off of his newfound sexuality.
RICHIE AND EDDIE, SITTING IN A TREE
During another brief flashback, it's revealed that the young Richie carved something into the wood on a local bridge. The wood is covered in carvings left by other young lovers, showing their initials together. At the end of the film, it's shown that Richie was writing out R + E. This stands for Richie and Eddie, revealing that Richie actually had romantic feelings for one of his best friends.
Given their past interactions, this makes perfect sense. Richie constantly teases Eddie, but in an affectionate way. Eddie and Richie usually have the same reactions when it comes to their direct dealings with Pennywise, hinting at their similar sense of thinking. Richie even fully forgives Eddie for failing to save him from the head spider form Pennywise takes at one point, while Bill is much more concerned with screaming at Eddie for the mistake.
All of this makes Eddie's eventual death all the more tragic. Leaving himself open after saving a hypnotized Richie, Eddie is stabbed through the gut by Pennywise. His final words are a last gag with Richie, before dying alone while his friends finish Pennywise off.
Even when Eddie has died from his injuries, Richie tries to force the group to take his body back to the surface. When everyone decompresses in the lake and speaks fondly of Eddie, Richie can only openly sob at the lost of someone so important to him. As he leaves Derry in the final montage, Richie makes sure to finish the R + E on the post. It's a sweet affirmation of Richie's feelings for his friend and makes Eddie's journey to self-acceptance even in the face of tragedy all the more effective.
It: Chapter Two stars Bill Skarsgård, James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Jay Ryan, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, James Ransone, Andy Bean, Teach Grant, Jess Weixler, Will Beinbrink, Xavier Dolan, Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff and Nicholas Hamilton. The film is scheduled to be released on Sept. 6.