Stand By Me (1986) — The best days of childhood

“C’mon Teddy, act your age!” “This is my age!”

Justin’s rating: Just like my childhood, only totally different

Justin’s review: This is perhaps one of the greatest movies about childhood ever. I don’t lie. Except when there’s a fierce round of poker on the line. Still, Stand By Me manages to catch the essential tone of being a kid in all those strange and wonderful ways. Sure, it’s set in ’50s Maine, but some things about being a kid don’t change no matter what era you grow up in.

Instead of most kid movies, where children constantly trounce adults and always are wise and witty, Stand By Me allows us to view the world through your average (real) kid’s eyes. Adults can lack understanding and unsympathetic to a child’s world. Bullies can harbor some of the cruelest thoughts and actions known to man. And being childish is, well, a good thing for the time.

Four friends — leader Chris (River Phoenix), writer Gordie (Wil Wheaton), insane Teddy (Corey Feldman), and chump Vern (Jerry O’Connell) — hear about a dead body off in the woods. They embark on a quest to find it, dodging bad dude Ace (Keifer Sutherland) and his gang on the way. Instead of the yellow brick road to follow, they take the train tracks through the woods. Instead of munchkins, there are… shoot, this analogy is breaking down rather quickly. Um, LOOK! What’s that?

Welcome to the fourth paragraph! While stuff does happen on their way (including a memorable bridge crossing with a train), most of this movie is not about the trip itself. The narrator (Richard Dreyfuss) lets us in on the small details of childhood, such as their intense fear of a mythical junkyard dog. He notes how each of the kids has been shaped by their family and past, and how they have little hope to rise above their assumed stations in life. Gordie in particular has a wrenching story, since his much-beloved older brother (John Cusack in flashback cameos) has died, and his parents have neglected the younger son they don’t like as much.

Other precious moments include dipping into parent-forbidden activities. Or swearing with a smile. Or coming up with creative insults about each other’s mother. Or spitting. Or fantasizing about being in a TV show or a movie. Or singing songs at the top of your lungs, wildly off-key.

But most of all it has to be about friends, sharing a strange and unabashedly fun relationship with each other. There are many little moments in this film that made me smile and laugh, not only because I’ve never seen them in any other movie, but because they just remind me of something from my childhood. Although there wasn’t anything in here about Star Wars action figures, and those factored in huge into my childhood.

This is from Stephen King’s novella “The Body,” supposedly written about some of his childhood experiences. Not only is it a great story, but the actors are top rate, all of them. All four lead actors play around with the subtleties of their past (being branded as a thief, pushed aside in your family, being a loser, being a nutjob) with skill… and it’s amazing to see that all of these guys grew up to be fairly famous actors: Wil Wheaton (Star Trek: Next Generation), River Phoenix (Sneakers), Corey Feldman (The Lost Boys), and Jerry O’Connell (Scream 2). Their performances are utterly believable and practically carry the film.

Stand By Me is both a movie about childhood and about growing up. There’s a bittersweet tone through the entire film, about how things do change, how friends do come and go, and how sometimes the good guys don’t always win (Gordie never gets his hat back, for example). But dude, the memories will last forever.

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