Stand by Me (1986)

Stand by Me (2012) movie poster

director Rob Reiner
viewed: 08/24/2012

Ah, Stand By Me.  It’s a pretty classic film, great performances, memorable scenes, nostalgia well-done.

I know it’s not a kids film but I thought that it would be something the kids would like.  I explained to them that it wasn’t so much a kids film as it was a film for adults about being kids.  But really, the main reason the film is rated R and thus “not a kids film” is because of the language.  There is a lot of cursing and some un-PC cigarette smoking.  And it’s not pandering to that audience.  It’s pandering to the adult audience, specifically those that came of age at the time depicted in the film, late 1950’s, baby boomers.

You know, it’s not just a pretty good film but a pretty great one.  Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell are beautifully cast and the performances that director Rob Reiner managed to evoke from them really feels timeless.  I was a teenager when it first came out, not a kid the age of those in the film, certainly not yet someone pining for those years, but I’ve always liked it.

Reiner had an impressive decade in the 1980’s as a director with This Is Spinal Tap (1984), The Sure Thing (1985), Stand by Me (1986), The Princess Bride (1987), and When Harry Met Sally… (1989).  All mainstream hits (with perhaps the exception of This Is Spinal Tap which was always more of a cult success and The Sure Thing which was a lesser effort), most of which have continued mainstream appreciation.  His work hasn’t really stayed up at that level of quality or interest since then, but it still makes for a heck of a resume.

Adapted from a Stephen King novella, “The Body”, it’s the story of four kids who venture out in the waning days of summer to look at the dead body of a boy their age, who had been hit by a train, yet undiscovered by authorities.  The story is narrated as a flashback by Richard Dreyfuss, in a style that would be appropriated by the television show The Wonder Years and eventually become a kind of shorthand for nostalgic exploration of that time period. Each of the kids have their own demons in life, but Gordie (Wheaton/Dreyfuss) has the most poignant, dealing with the accidental death of his older brother and alienation from his family.  Each of the kids, Wheaton, Phoenix, Feldman and O’Connell give amazing performances.  It was a coup of casting and directing them.

Of course, it’s hard to look at any River Phoenix film without some amount of regret over the tragedy of his shortened life.  This was the film that put him on the map, so to speak, and his performance in it is still very moving.

Even the setting seems worth noting. Stand By Me was filmed in and around Brownsville, Oregon, an exquisite exemplar of small town America.  And the scene on the railroad bridge, one of the film’s signature moments, is so beholden to its setting, that beautiful trestle that became so treacherous.

The kids loved the movie. Felix said that he’d put it up with his all-time favorites, noting how his mother had talked about it and how much other friends of his would like it.  Clara was a little put off by the cursing.  I guess it goes to show that she doesn’t hear a lot of it in her normal life nor in the films we watch.  Cursing was more naturalistic in films, I think, before the 1990’s.  Maybe the MPAA hardened their rules about how many times certain words could be used and films are now cut so that they can be marketed to different audiences.  It is, of course, “how kids talk”.  I was going to say that to Felix and Clara but then realized that they know how kids talk and that they don’t themselves talk like that.  Otherwise, she enjoyed it too.

It’s a great movie.  Really is.

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