Stand by Me, based on a Steven King novella, is a coming of age drama about four young boys who set out one morning in search of a dead body that is rumoured to be lying not far from their small Oregonian town. Over the course of a couple of days they encounter excitement and danger and return as changed people on the cusp of adulthood. The film has a classic charm and easy on the eyes style which rolls slowly out in front of the audience. It takes its time and focuses on the character’s journey and is only lightly interspersed with action. The movie is more dramatic than the more comedic but similarly themed The Goonies and it features more adult language. I believe however that the language realistically captures the way that boys of that age, from that era would have spoken and it doesn’t hold back to make itself available to all ages.
Even though the film is set nearly thirty years before I was born and on an entirely different continent, many of its ideas reminded me of my own childhood. It made me yearn for the days of adventure when a friend would arrive excitedly at my house to announce that he had found a dead cat or that a window was open in a house under construction around the corner. That rush of youthful excitement and danger is something which you don’t experience as an adult and as the film clearly states, your friends at that age are the closest you’ll ever have. The movie made me feel very nostalgic and sad to be sitting on the sofa with grey hairs, thinking about putting a load of washing on rather than throwing on a jacket and running out of the house with reckless abandon.
In addition to the fun, excitement and adventure, the movie also constructs some more downbeat and depressing themes. A couple of the children are from families which don’t care much for them, one of them is from a family from which no one expects him to succeed and another has recently lost his elder brother. Because of these plot devices the film isn’t all fun and games and a scene late on in which the narrating character brakes down came very close to bringing a tear to my eye. There are villains present too, villains who try their utmost to upset the boy’s adventure. An older gang lead by a youthful Kiefer Sutherland show the dark side of youth. Being the age group above the central characters, they depict what the boys could become once they lose the rush of adventure and opt instead to ‘hang out’. Sutherland’s Ace character is truly horrible and he plays the role very well, despite it being difficult for me to separate his face from Jack Bauer. His boredom of small town life is the most evident to see.
On the whole the acting is very good considering the film features a child heavy cast. The stand out is River Phoenix who plays Chris with authority and intelligent wit. He makes the character seem older than he is and leads the gang of boys as well as the film. Wil Wheaton plays the central narrating character of Geordie Lachance. He differs from Phoenix in that he seems younger than twelve but he plays the role with a sensitive side and obvious intelligence behind the eyes. Corey Feldman has some good scenes as the angry kid whose home life affects his personality massively and Jerry O’Connell provides the occasional comic relief but is probably the weakest of the central quartet. John Cusack has a small role as the elder Lachance brother. The acting is aided by characters that are deep and well written. By the end you feel as though you have spent more than ninety minutes with the boys and I personally wanted to spend more time with them on another adventure.
The movie features a great rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack, typical of the era. Artists such as Buddy Holly, The Del-Vikings, Jerry Lee Lewis and The Bobbettes appear on the soundtrack which is played through radios and sung by the boys as well as being artificially inserted in the traditional way. It fit the story and visuals and had my tapping my toes. Overall there wasn’t much that I disliked about Stand by Me. It had a nice mix of action and drama but wasn’t too heavy on the action which grounded it in reality. It was unflinching in its imagery and use of language and the characters were a lot of fun to be with. It reminded me of growing up and made me long for my own childhood and as coming of age stories go, it’s up there with the best.
- The actress pictured on the front of the classic movie magazine was Elizabeth McGovern who was at the time engaged to director Rob Reiner.
- To keep in character while off character, Kiefer Sutherland often picked on the younger cast members.
- Director Rob Reiner is an avid anti-smoking campaigner so insisted that the cigarettes that the boys smoked were made of cabbage leaves.