Wednesday, July 6, 2011

#334. Stand By Me (1986)

Directed By: Rob Reiner

Starring: Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman

Tag line: "For some, it's the last real taste of innocence, and the first real taste of life. But for everyone, it's the time that memories are made of"

Trivia:  To keep in character while off-camera, Kiefer Sutherland often picked on his younger castmates

Watching Stand By Me is like returning to my own childhood, to a time when my friends and I would spend summer afternoons exploring the forest that surrounded our neighborhood, and though our conversations differed slightly from the ones in this film (instead of The Mickey Mouse Club, we were dissecting the latest episode of The Dukes of Hazzard), that warm, nostalgic feeling is there every time I sit down to watch this wonderful film. 

Based on the Stephen King novella "The Body", Stand By Me is the story of four young friends living in the fictional 1950's town of Castle Rock, Oregon. It's the start of the Labor Day weekend, and Vern (Jerry O’Connell), just overheard his older brother (Casey Siemaszko) and a friend (Gary Riley) discussing the whereabouts of a dead body. 

The body is that of a boy named Ray Brower, whose mysterious disappearance has been big news for weeks. Vern tells his three closest friends, Gordie (Wil Wheaton), Chris (River Phoenix), and Teddy (Corey Feldman), who have also been following the Brower story. 

Hoping to get their pictures in the paper, the four set out on an overnight adventure to locate Ray Brower's remains, but the experiences they'll share over the course of those two days will ultimately prove more valuable than they ever anticipated. 

With Stand By Me, director Rob Reiner weaves an engrossing coming of age tale, one ripe with memorable scenes and unforgettable characters. Yet what makes the film truly special are the performances of its young leads. Wil Wheaton lives and breathes the part of Gordie, the artistic one of the bunch whose home life has been a nightmare ever since the death of his older brother, Denny (John Cusack). For Gordie, who misses his brother terribly, seeing Ray Brower’s body carries an added significance, and may help him deal with his own feelings of loss. 

Jerry O’Connell, only eleven years old when Stand By Me was made, adds some comic relief as Vern, the pudgy kid who is afraid of his own shadow, and Corey Feldman brings the right mix of zaniness and tragedy to Teddy, the boy who idolizes his abusive father. 

Then there’s River Phoenix as Chris, the leader of the group who comes from the wrong side of the tracks, and doesn’t think he'll amount to very much in life. Phoenix handles the role flawlessly, giving us a troubled young man with the potential to be something more, even if he himself doesn't know it. Had this performance been delivered by an established Hollywood star, it would have been impressive.  The fact Phoenix was twelve-at the time makes it utterly amazing. 

I first saw Stand By Me during its theatrical run in 1986, and I'm betting I've watched it at least two dozen times since then.  It is more than a movie to me; it's a treasured memory of my past, and odds are it always will be.

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