Stand By Me (Review)

What begins as a journey to find a dead body becomes something much more significant

Rob Riener’s 1986 classic Stand By Me remains one of the greatest coming-of-age stories to ever grace the screen.  Based quite closely on the Stephen King novella “The Body,” the film follows four 12-year-old boys who embark on an overnight journey to find the dead body of a kid who was rumoured to have been hit by a train.  Along the way they encounter numerous obstacles including a “vicious” junkyard dog, a nearly fatal run-in with a train, and repeated encounters with a local gang of teens lead by the malicious Ace (played by a young Kiefer Sutherland).  But what makes this film so timeless is the brutally honest writing which perfectly captures the hopes and fears of boys at this transitional age in their lives, where they still try to cling to some kind of youthful innocence even as they begin to act more and more like teenagers, sneaking away from home, smoking cigarettes and swearing.

A young River Phoenix steals the show despite a talented ensemble

The mature tone of King’s story is brought to life thanks to the incredibly solid performances of the boys themselves, played by Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell, and the late River Phoenix.  Phoenix in particular stands out as the strongest actor of the bunch, offering an incredibly powerful monologue late in the film that resonates more strongly perhaps than any other scene.  A young John Cusack also appears briefly as the loving older brother of Wil Wheaton’s Gordie Lachance, who had recently passed away in a car accident leaving Gordie with nothing but memories and his depressed parents who hardly notice him.  It is this perspective of alienation (stemming primarily from the broken home) that is shared in some way by each of the boys, indirectly bringing them together for a journey that ends up changing them all in a significant way.

It quickly becomes apparent that Stand By Me is tackling some heavy family issues including depression, alcoholism, abuse and personal loss; yet somehow amidst all this darkness the film ends up feeling quite uplifting.  Perhaps it is the way in which the story is structured, with the journey acting as a means for these boys to tackle issues that are much bigger than they are, forcing them to come to terms with their own fears and weaknesses before eventually coming face-to-face with death itself.  The honest nature of King’s writing translates into an incredibly moving film thanks to Reiner’s respectful direction, which balances out the darker issues of dysfunctional or abusive families with the lightness of innocent joking and youthful shenanigans.  This balance is what makes Stand By Me such a timeless and unforgettable film – an honest and uncompromising coming-of-age story that continues to hold the same emotional punch as it did over 20 years ago when it was released.

Rating: 5/5 Stars.

Stand By Me (1986, USA, R: 88 mins) Directed by: Rob Reiner, Starring: Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell, Kiefer Sutherland, Casey Siemaszko, Gary Riley, Bradley Gregg, Jason Oliver, John Cusack, and Richard Dreyfuss.

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~ by Mark D'Amico on July 3, 2011.

2 Responses to “Stand By Me (Review)”

  1. I saw Stand by Me last summer when Cinematheque Waterloo screened it, and it was the first time in probably 15 years. It really is a great film. You’re completely right, it’s just an honest film. From Richard Dreyfuss’ naked narration to the great performances by the then-young cast. It’s surprising that Reiner directed this, really, considering he’s never made a film like this, in terms of tone and honesty before or after.

  2. Yeah it really is bizarre that it’s Reiner behind the camera. I kept forgetting that this was the same guy who had just made This Is Spinal Tap a few years before, and would follow it up with The Princess Bride! I think a lot of the honesty of the writing comes from King’s original story though, which established many of the characters’ emotional backstories. I hate it when people categorize King as nothing more than a horror author, when really he’s just an incredible character writer, no matter what genre he touches. Many of his best stories are dramas, like this one, and it seems to me like it’s his more dramatic stories that turn into the best films.

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