|I don't shut up, I grow up, and when I look at you I throw up!|
Childhood is often considered a time of ultimate innocence and wonder. It is during this crucial period in which we step beyond the boundaries of family relationships and explore the trust, understanding, and heartache that make up friendships. Over time however, the lessons that we learn and the friendships that we are certain will last a lifetime are tested and questioned as we embark upon the process of coming of age. One film perfectly captures the exhilaration, confusion, confidence, and anxiety that make up the turning point between childhood and all that lies beyond; the 1986 coming of age classic Stand By Me.
The story is a deceptively simple one; a slice of 1950’s Americana on the surface that slowly reveals itself to be a poignant tale of the wisdom that is gained when innocence is lost. The film begins with best friends Gordie (Wil Wheaton), Chris (River Phoenix), Teddy (Corey Feldman), and Vern (Jerry O’Connell) enjoying their last summer before entering junior high school. The summer is a difficult one for Gordie, who is still reeling from the recent death of his older brother, Denny (John Cusack), who was killed in a car accident. The boys’ aimless summer takes on a new sense of adventure, however, when Vern overhears his brother talking to a friend about discovering the body of a missing boy after disposing of a stolen car in the local woods. When Vern relates the tale to his friends, the boys immediately decide to take a trip into the woods to find the body and alert the police, thereby becoming local celebrities and heroes. Over the course of the two days that make up their trip, the boys are confronted with demons from their respective pasts, the threat of a rival gang also searching for the body in the present, and the uncertainty of what awaits them in September. While they embark upon the trip to find a dead body, the boys ultimately find their first glimpse of life beyond the confines of their own back yards.
While the story is at heart another in a long line of coming of age tales, the expert writing elevates the film to classic territory. The mixture of casual camaraderie, good natured ribbing, and heartfelt confidences that make up the boys’ dialogue makes their friendship both engaging and believable. Although there are moments of memorable comedy and action, the film truly shines as a character study, with each boy facing his own fears and triumphs to grow one step closer to manhood. As a result, the audience gets to know each of the boys as people rather than as types and understands the shared interests and experiences that have bonded them together. The film also succeeds in providing the boys with enough differences and disputes to ensure that their bond is a realistically complex one, rather than falling into the trap of complacently having all of the characters agree and get along through the entire plot. Through this focus upon character development, each of the boys’ interactions, ranging from discussions about tv shows to confessions of difficulties at home ,carries weight as it sheds light upon who each of the characters is and foreshadows the men they will one day become. Perhaps the most poignant aspect of the film is the ending, which reveals the fates of each character in a way that aligns with the events that occurred in the film and grounds the plot in a firm sense of reality, while still paying homage to the nostalgia of days gone by.
|Those cheap dime-store hoods|
Despite the film’s exemplary script, Stand By Me would not be the classic that it has become without the talents of its cast. Wil Wheaton makes for an ideal everyman in his performance as central character Gordy, aptly portraying Gordy’s ‘good kid’ persona while still hinting at the inner demons he is facing in his isolated home life. Similarly, River Phoenix’s winning combination of tough guy charm and vulnerability makes Chris a fully fleshed character, leaving little wonder as to why Gordy relies upon and looks up to him. Corey Feldman provides an engaging turn as the mentally unstable Teddy, and manages to convey Teddy’s instability without resorting to theatrics or histrionics. Jerry O’Connell’s performance as Vern is a refreshingly human take on the typical ‘funny chubby kid’ role that is so prevalent in adolescent films, and adds a layer of depth to what could have easily been a one note role. The supporting cast adds the darkness and complexity necessary to connect the boys’ exploits in the woods to the greater scheme of life in 1950’s America. John Cusak’s likable portrayal of Gordy’s nurturing older brother, Denny, is an excellent contrast to the disdain of Gordy’s grieving father (Marshall Bell) and the menace of local hood Ace (Keifer Sutherland), who stand in for the disappointments and dangers of the adult world. Finally, Richard Dreyfuss holds the film’s narrative together with a combination of hard earned wisdom, nostalgia, and intelligence as the adult Gordy, who also serves as the film’s narrator.
Through its comedic charm, heartfelt poignancy, and mature outlook, Stand By Me is a perfect example of what a coming of age film should be. Although the film relates a simple, small town tale, it manages to do so in such a way that the adolescent adventures of its heroes become nothing short of epic. The superb writing and exemplary performances provide the simple premise with depth and complexity to make the film truly a universal and resonating story that anyone who can remember their own childhood can relate to. At the film’s finish, the now-grown Gordy writes that he “never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve”; regardless of how true that sentiment might be, during the film’s running time we can all relive the simple joys of those carefree days in which we knew exactly who we were, where we were going, and what it meant to be a friend.
|Who wouldn't cherish these moments?!|