*Warning: This post contains spoilers for Stranger Things Season 1*
Stranger Things is a result of a perfect storm; a plot that slowly unravels the great mystery behind the events of the show, a beautiful aesthetic which oozes the hallmarks of the best visual creativity of the '80s, an unforgettable soundtrack and a cast with more chemistry than the periodic table.
Trying to pick which element (see: cast member) is the best is tricky. Winona Ryder's elaborate and well-intended desperation as Joyce Byers, David Habours's endearing metamorphosis from downbeat cop to interdimensional hero in Chief Jim Hopper, Millie Bobby Brown's subtle yet powerful performance as juvenile superpower Eleven, not to mention Finn Wolfhard as Mike Wheeler or Caleb McLaughlin as Lucas Sinclair. All have a case.
The Standout Star Of Stranger Things
But for me, the true star of the show is Gaten Matarazzo, playing the quirky and headstrong glue that holds the young gang together. Dustin may be toothless in appearance, down to a condition called cleidocranial dysplasia (which Gaten has in real life), but he is far from toothless in nature. Although it's easy to be blinded by Dustin's scene-stealing smile, quotable one-liners and love of a good snack, his story arc is one of the most important in the show.
Ever the diplomat, Dustin manages to holds the young crew together during their most challenging times. When Lucas is wary of El at the beginning Dustin is conciliatory and unflustered, reassured the group that she is, infact, badass. He sees her telekinetic powers as a force for good, all the while displaying the nonchalance of a seasoned Ghostbuster.
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That's not to mention him calling out Mike's behavior, identifying the reason behind Lucas's dislike of El. And after El tosses Lucas to one side like a rag doll, who's the one on call to mend the fragmented group? Dustin.
In an interview with IndieWire discussing his role, Matarrazzo also highlights the pragmatism of Dustin, and his ability to build bridges and mend fallouts in his friendship group. He said:
"He’s really outgoing, and he’s smart. He’s not really brave. He’s a coward at first, but he really wants to be brave when he needs to go find his friend. Everyone has their own part in the group: Mike is the leader; Lucas is like the strong person. He’s realistic; Will is the one we protect, and Dustin is the glue that keeps everybody from separating. He keeps everyone together."
A Reliable Sidekick
Matarazzo plays the sidekick role sublimely well, and with credit to the Duffer Brothers script, avoids becoming pure comic relief. Sure, moments like screaming with uncontrollable enthusiasm at the prospect of chocolate pudding, or yelling "she'll kill you sons of bitches" to defeated bullies are golden. But it's his moment of life affirming, monster defying truthfulness that sets him apart.
What makes it all the more impressive is that the role was moulded around Matarrazzo. He originally auditioned for the role of Mike, but was told to come back and audition for Dustin, and the Duffer brothers admitted they only had a "stereotypical" nerd in mind, before meeting Gaten gave them the idea for the character we've come to know and love.
And A Role Model
Plus, not only is he a talented young actor, his performance on the show has provided a role model for sufferers of cleidocranial dysplasia, whom Dustin notes:
"They say that because this was in the show and this is the first time they’ve heard of it outside the doctor’s office, it made them feel really good and it inspired them. Those messages really inspired me and made me feel good and appreciate the Duffers even more."
It's hard to see Gaten as anything other than a TV star after his mastery in Stranger Things, yet he fell into acting almost by accident, wanting to emulate his older sister who worked as an actress in musicals. Work on Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Les Miserables marked the beginning of his theatrical career, before a small appearance in one episode of The Blacklist saw his transition to the small screen.
All in all, the future looks bright for Gaten Matarrazzo. And while there has been no news of a second season of Stranger Things, it has to be guaranteed, hasn't it? If so, expect to see much more of the same from Matarrazzo, gently ensuring the group stick together through challenging times, and probably searching for chocolate pudding. It's good for stamina, after all.