Stand By Me-1986
Starring-Will Wheaton, River Phoenix
Scott’s Review #752
Reviewed May 2, 2018
Stand By Me (1986), is a sweet, coming of age story that every male (or female for that matter) who grew up in small town america will undoubtedly relate to. Set mostly outdoors in the remote pacific northwest, the film successfully shows the deep bonds of friendships over the course of a Labor day weekend as four youths set out on an adventure of discovery. In 1986 I was able to completely relate to the film and in present day Stand By Me holds up quite well.
Stephen King, a tremendous author known mostly for horror novels, created a short story named The Body in 1982- Stand By Me is based on this story. Instead of traditional horror however, the story is more of a straight up adventure, though in pure King style- a dead body is front and center (naturally). Stand By Me is directed by Rob Reiner, and its success led to other mainstream achievements for Reiner (1989’s When Harry Met Sally and 1990’s Misery- also a King novel). The legendary theme song by Ben E. King plays over the closing credits and became a smash hit again in 1986.
The film starts off in intriguing fashion as the main character, Gordie, as an adult, learns that his childhood friend Chris Chambers has tragically been stabbed to death. Gordie then narrates a flashback to the summer of 1959 when he and three other boys embarked on a childhood adventure one Labor day weekend. Along with Gordie (Will Wheaton), we meet Chris (River Phoenix) a rebellious boy with a troubled home life, Teddy (Corey Feldman), who is scarred as a result of being burned by his mentally ill father, and Vern (Jerry O’Connell) an overweight kid insecure about his looks.
The wonderful aspect of Stand By Me is that each of the four central characters is flawed either physically or by some other insecurity-giving depth to each character. In this way, each character is highly empathetic to an audience member who may see him or herself in these characters. This point carries through for the entire length of the film. Through conversational scenes with one another each weakness is exposed and dissected- Teddy becomes vulnerable about his relationship with his father when a character refers to him as “loony”. Vern’s weight bothers him, and Chris aspires to be so much more than people anticipate he will ever become.
Not to be weighed down by too many dramatic elements, Stand By Me incorporates much needed humor into its story. My favorite sequence is the delightful story that Godie regales the other boys with one night as they camp outdoors. Town legend has it that a rotund, picked on boy nicknamed “Lard-Ass” enacts the perfect revenge on the townspeople one summer as he enters a pie-eating contest resulting in a torrent of vomiting. This scene is very well shot by Reiner and brilliantly balances the differing tones of the film all the while nestled in a connecting package.
The film belongs to the young actors each of whom is cast extremely well. Of course, Corey Feldman and River Phoenix went on to major success in the 1980’s. Phoenix who tragically died in 1993, and Feldman, who suffered through numerous problems in his short career, are forever youthful with promise and poise in this film. In Phoenix’s case, he seemed most on course for leading man status with his dashing youthful looks and clean cut appearance. Watching in later years it is bittersweet to watch both actors and recollect the promise of each.
Mixing both drama and comedy but at its core a true adventure story best watched on a summer evening, Stand By Me is memorable and poignant. The setting of late summer, outdoorsy camping and green scenery is resilient and stands the test of time. Anyone who ever has embarked on a good journey as a kid or formulated everlasting memories of those from their youth (which should be all of us) can appreciate this timeless gem.
Oscar Nominations: Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium