Movie Review: Stand By Me (1986)

TitleStand By Me
Release Date: August 8, 1986
Director: Rob Reiner
Production Company: Act III Productions

Stand By Me is a movie I saw at the theaters when it came out, and then several more times on tv.  I loved this movie but revisisiting it as an adult has made me appreciate it even more.  The movie is adapted from a novella by Stephen King called The Body, which I had coincidentally read before seeing the movie.  The film moves the story from King’s Maine to Oregon but is otherwise pretty faithful.  Despite the period music queues of early rock & roll hits, this movie is far from the Boomer nostalgia piece one might expect.

At heart, it is the story of a group of four 12-year-olds in the late 1950s making an overnight journey to see the dead body of a boy their age who had been hit by a train.  Along the way they encounter a legendary junkyard dog, escape a train on a railroad trestle, and get covered with leeches.  But the heart of this coming-of-age story is seeing the boys come to terms with the neglect and abuse from their parents and the support they can give one another as friends.

A lot of the movie’s success is due to the fantastic casting.  Wil Wheaton stars as Gordie LaChance, a quiet boy with a talent for writing who feels invisible to his parents after the death of his older brother. His best friend is Chris Chambers (River Phoenix), a boy with a criminal reputation from a “bad family,” but actually quite conscientious and something of a father figure to the other boys.  Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman) suffers serious abuse from his mentally-ill father and lashes out unpredictably in his anger.  Vern Tessio (Jerry O’Connell) is the goofy kid who tries too hard to be cool.  Kiefer Sutherland also makes one of his earliest film appearances as Ace Merrill, the leader of a gang of older teenagers who are the main antagonists to the boys in the story.

The movie has a lot to say about friendship, the trials and traumas of childhood, and not judging people by their initial appearances.  It’s one of the best depictions of childhood onscreen in my experience.  The movie concludes with the line “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?” Since I was 12 when I first saw this movie and didn’t have any close friends at the time that line rankled me.  Hearing it again at 48, when I find myself with no real social connections outside my immediate family, I’m still struggling with that line.  But, I’m holding out for my 50s as the time when I find the people I’m going to really bond with.

Rating: ****1/2

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