Stand By Me (1986)
Directed by Rob Reiner
There aren't a lot of movies that really capture pre-teen angst. The high school romances and teen comedies barely scratch the surface and end up like a look in a funhouse mirror. They're an awful way to look at the reality.
But what Rob Reiner has done with Stand By Me sets it apart from any other movie with children as the main characters. There happen to be four: Gordie Lachance is the smart one, he wants to be a writer; Chris is mostly seen as a troublemaker, but he's actually very diplomatic, and smarter than people think; Teddy energetic and likes to play war; Vern is a little overweight and ends up being the punchline to a lot of jokes. The four of them are, obviously, best friends. Their quirks and weaknesses have knit them into a tight group. And now they share practically everything, even a private treehouse.
So when Vern overhears his brother, talking about finding the body of Ray Brower, of course he has to tell his three closest friends. Ray's disappearance has been all over the news and naturally the gang wants to find him, they'll definitely be in the newspaper. As the boys get ready for the (almost) 30-mile hike we really start to learn. Most movies that have a beginning like this would, at this point, turn into a slapstick jaunt through the woods to some ridiculous place. But Reiner leads us through a much better story.
Directing child actors is a feat unto itself, so when it's done very well it is it's own achievement. As the boys set out, we start to understand the magnitude of this film. As they hike, the actors start to fade and only the group of friends remain, hiking along train tracks, getting water and food at a junkyard, joking and playing all the way.
With every pause along, what'll turn out to be, the boys' three-day journey, we get snippets of their personalities and personal lives. Teddy's brought a comb and 7 cents, but Gordie manages to make a plan to get food. Teddy tries to play chicken with an oncoming train and Chris pulls him off the tracks. Teddy's furious, but Chris makes peace.
The dialogue is natural; lines are delivered with loneliness, with vulnerability, with the fantastic shades of false bravado
Every now and then we get a flashback, a snippet into the boys' lives. And that's where the artistry of this movie shines. Reiner's sculpted characters with true depth. They become people and not just characters on a screen. Gordie feels constantly alone, his parents never seeming to show any affection; they loved his brother more, now the family's broken. Chris needs to go someplace new, where no one knows him; he's always labeled a criminal or thief because his father was a thief, so even his good deeds are tainted or simply disregarded. Teddy's in denial, he knows what his father is, abusive and mentally unstable, but prefers to think of him as the Normandy war hero instead; he's intent on surpassing the limits of his forcibly burnt ear and joining the army, living up to the better expectations his father had set. Vern is timid and a tad cowardly, ever the butt of a joke, yet his best buds accept him anyway; he doesn't have anything going for him except that he has three, great friends.
These boys are brought to life with vivid purity. Their jokes and humor, spontaneous singing, and deep and protective emotions seem like nothing less than the qualities of friends I've had and still have. They're just as relatable, or even more so, than some adult characters. The dialogue is natural; lines are delivered with loneliness, with vulnerability, with the fantastic shades of false bravado.
The movie paces along steadily, without a wasted shot or meaningless sigh, a skill I like to call "cinematic succinctness." Reiner really hits his stride as a director with Stand By Me. It's become the second of many of his films to set a standard for a genre, standards that wouldn't truly be met by other directors for quite some time. Although the story and film aren't supremely astounding there aren't too many tales of growing youth that can hold a handle to Stand By Me. The method of storytelling and the emotion portrayed throughout set it apart from other movies. It sustains itself as the purest kind of human interest story, neither mundane nor thrilling, yet it demands sympathy and attention. Its a story you need to hear the end of without really knowing why, beyond a simple need.
- Acting – 16 / 20
- Story – 18 / 20
- Cinematography – 14 / 20
- Soundtrack – 7 / 10
- Entertainment Factor – 7 / 10
- Drama/Comedy – 8 / 10
- Other – 10 / 10
TL;DR: Over time, Stand By Me has become an often overlooked take on growing up. There are a lot of coming-of-age stories, and they seem to get better as time goes on. But the story and emotion of Rob Reiner's 4-friend film, starring the prodigious River Phoenix, has ensured it remain a classic. This movie's definitely worth a watch, taking you back to childhood for a nostalgic hour and a half, even if you didn't grow up in a small town, play around train tracks, or venture through wilderness.