Movies We Love: Stand By Me

“Fuck writing, I don’t want to be a writer.  It’s stupid.  It’s a stupid waste of time.”

Synopsis

On their last weekend before the start of Junior High four best friends venture thru the outskirts of their small town in search of the dead body of a teenage boy that had gone missing.  On their trek they bond deeper than they ever had before and open up to be vulnerable to one another; uncovering hidden shames, fears of both inadequacy and exceptional talent, and uncertainty of their futures.  If the coming of age discoveries weren’t troublesome enough the boys also have a rival gang, consisting mainly of their older brothers and one ruthless leader, on their tails also looking to become the heroes to discover the dead body.

Why We Love It

It’s probably the quintessential coming-of-age film of the ‘80s, if not amongst one of the greatest ever.  The chemistry between the young leads (River Phoenix, Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman and Jerry O’Connell) is one of the easiest things I’ve ever bought into while watching a film, because I couldn’t guess that the actors weren’t best friends when I first saw it when I was younger, nor could I find fault in their portrayals when I watched it as an adult.  Some aspects are admittedly melodramatic, but they’re handled with a bit of honesty, and hilarity, that makes it easy to swallow.

There did seem to be a certain fascination or fondness for the 1950s throughout American cinema in the 1980s, more specifically with teenage life in the 1950s.  It’s most likely due to the love and firsthand experiences of that time period from the filmmakers that made them (who were all around the early adolescent stages themselves in the ‘50s), but there’s little question that current society’s view of 1950s American teen culture is based largely on its depiction from these films of the 1980s.  Back to the Future, Porky’s, La Bamba, The Outsiders, Rumble Fish, Peggy Sue Got Married, and this film have all had a significant effect on our perception of what the 1950s were like.  Basically, they seemed pretty fun and had some catchy music (showcased very well in Stand By Me), but also appeared just as stressful as it was for the youth of the decades since.  Though, that catchy music can really help you deal with a lot of issues.

There also weren’t a lot of big director names that arose, and maintained, during the 1980s but Rob Reiner was up there with the few.  The Coens are probably the pick of the tiny litter, but in terms of Hollywood pictures Reiner was very much in the realm of reliability when it came to finding films to be excited about and Stand By Me is at least in the conversation to be considered his masterpiece.  This is Spinal Tap, The Princess Bride, The Sure Thing, When Harry Met Sally, Misery, A Few Good Men, and Stand By Me (all in succession in a different order than what I listed) all still hold up to repeat viewings and together form one of the more impressive resumes of any filmmaker during a dry spell of artistic and daring filmmaking.  Most of these films aren’t that, but they’re also not big budget summer blockbusters and yet each are easy to pick out on a dvd shelf to always fulfill a need to experience a wide range of emotions; and Stand By Me touches almost all of them on its own.

Moment We Fell In Love

The easy spot to point to is the iconic running from the train sequence.  It’s certainly the most memorable moment for most due to its intensity, but the exact moment that I knew Stand By Me was special was on my first viewing of it when I was about six or seven years.  The moment comes near the end of the film when they find the body of the missing boy.  Vern, the chunky scapegoat of the group, sees the corpse from a short distance and immediately calls to the others.  They stare at the lifeless legs and torso that are partially covered by brush before moving it to uncover the face; and its eyes still wide open.  To say that had a profound effect on me as a six year old is understating the severity of its impact.  I hadn’t yet seen a dead body except what was shown in movies and this was the first time that I saw something that did in fact look dead.  Very dead.  It was horrific, and sad, and something that I hoped I’d never have to see firsthand.  I still hope I never see a body in a state like that.

Final Thoughts

Aside from being one of the best film adaptations of a Stephen King story Stand By Me stands as one of the most rewatchable films from the decade of American cinema that specialized in rewatchability, and it did it without sacrificing effective drama for popcorn excitement that most rewatchable films do.  Its strengths in humor and pre-teen friendships stem from the storytelling prowess of King, but come to life in the believability of the actors who all seem to have a blast being simultaneously too smart-ass for their own good and too insecure about themselves and where they’re headed.  It’s a highlight of funny, tragic, and a dead-on representation of unforgettable friendships.

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