It can't be easy being a clown these days, what with Hollywood's insistence on fuelling prejudice against this ancient and honourable profession.
Coming soon to cinemas is Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix as what promises to be the most off-putting incarnation yet of Batman's biggest foe.
Meanwhile, we have Andy Muschietti's It: Chapter Two, based on Stephen King's epic 1986 horror novel about the nastiest clown of all: the child-killing, sewer-dwelling Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) whose semi-human form is a mask for cosmic evil beyond our ken.
Following on from Muschietti's first It movie in 2017, the story jumps forward 27 years to the present, with the characters who originally battled Pennywise as misfit children reuniting as adults in their hometown of Derry, Maine to finish the job.
Outwardly, some of these characters have come further than others. The formerly pudgy Ben (Jay Ryan) has slimmed down and become a high-powered architect; Bill (James McAvoy), once hampered by his stutter, has had similar success as a horror novelist with some resemblance to King himself.
Outwardly, some of these characters have come further than others.
The motor-mouthed Richie (Bill Hader) is now a self-loathing stand-up comic, while the tightly-wound Eddie (James Ransone) has found a use for his caution as a "risk analyst". Beverly (Jessica Chastain), the only woman in the group, remains under the thumb of a husband (Will Beinbrink) hardly less monstrous than the father who once abused her. Summoned back to Derry by the paranoid Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), the heroes set about collecting artifacts from the past to be offered up in a final sacrificial ritual - a quest that cues a series of hallucinations in which they regress to childhood and confront their deepest fears. This is a right-on movie in a very 2019 way: Muschietti has already confirmed that any resemblance between Pennywise and Donald Trump is wholly deliberate.
Even if the film is mostly too lacking in narrative momentum to be truly suspenseful, it retains a disturbing quality which stems precisely from Muschietti's willingness to court the absurd, in set-pieces incorporating everything from a freakout in a Chinese restaurant (watch out for those fortune cookies!) to a skateboard run amok.
The implication is that the false surface of the world conceals a truth at once bizarre and grotesquely banal, which is convincing at least as an evocation of what some kinds of mental illness might feel like.
That the plot makes no literal sense forces us to understand it as a metaphor for the psychological effects of abuse, a theme which has become an obsession in American film and TV. Yet even as the characters try to recover their traumatic memories, the film represses a good deal: a running joke about Bill's failings as an author seems to allude indirectly to the crazier, more obscene portions of King's novel, which any screen adaptation would be forced to tone down.
The effort to deliver shock value without breaking the protocols of mainstream entertainment results in a degree of glibness and even irresponsibility, especially in the maudlin epilogue.
Despite the extended running time, the characters remain narrowly defined. Beverly, in particular, is a pure male fantasy, at once a traumatised victim and a gracious den mother to a troupe of adult Lost Boys. To a large extent, it's Hader who steals the film: not that his nerdy wise-guy is less stereotyped than the rest, but he has the comic's gift for coming off as a human being while everybody else is "acting". Of all the protagonists, it's Richie who seems most likely to have some kinship with Pennywise, who also sees himself as a victim or claims to. Comedians, after all, are clowns of a sort, though this, too, is a truth which the film makes an effort to repress.