Monday, January 30, 2012

A little nostalgic for Stand By Me

“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12. Jesus, does anyone?”

After writing my piece on Stephen King film adaptations, I happened upon one of my favourites, Stand By Me, on TV. The coming-of-age story about four young boys who go in search of a dead body is a film that has stood the test of time. It’s about friendship, strained relationships between fathers and sons, and the confusing, emotional and sometimes turbulent period of adolescence. The four boys played by Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman and Jerry O’Connell, are superb in their roles as Gordie, Chris, Teddy and Vern, respectively; so honest and real as youngsters on an adventure who along the way rib each other, sing songs and debate issues of the day, face bullies, outrun a train and open up emotional wounds in questioning who they are.

What I’ve come to appreciate most about the film is how the experience of watching it now as an adult has changed from when I first saw Stand By Me as a young teenager. I think I was 13 or 14 years old when I first saw the film and I remember thinking of it as an adventure film with four aimless boys looking for a little fun and danger to break up the monotony of living in a small town. Watching it as an adult, I can’t help but focus on the characters’ troubled lives and how the film lays bare all the emotions and heartache they’re feeling. Each wrestles with his own demons and each boy confronts his own fears.

Gordie (Wil Wheaton) doesn’t feel good about himself and is acutely aware that his father doesn’t love him. Gordie’s older brother was killed in a car accident and he’s since become the invisible boy at home, haunted by the realization that his parents feel like the wrong son was taken. Chris (River Phoenix) is a tough, cool and fiercely protective friend who comes from a loveless home and fears getting trapped in the small town he’s growing up in for the rest of his life. In one powerful scene, Chris has a breakdown because he thinks he’s worthless and fears he’ll never get the fresh start he so desperately hopes for. In only Phoenix’s second feature film, he showcased impressive vulnerability and an engaging onscreen presence that, when watching it today, is a reminder of his untimely death and the promising career that was cut tragically short.

Vern (Jerry O’Connell) is the youngest of the bunch; a chubby, cowardly and often irritating tag-along that the other boys pick on. Teddy (Corey Feldman) is perhaps the most intriguing of all the boys. He’s a disturbed kid who is physically abused by his mentally unstable father, yet cares so deeply for his dad. Say what you will about Corey Feldman and the career (or lack thereof) that he’s had as an adult (The Surreal Life, Blown Away), no one could have played the tortured Teddy Duchamp with as much raw emotion as he did.

Stand By Me is as effective today as it was when it was released in 1986 because the film is a rich tapestry of common themes that resonate with every generation - human emotion, growing up and self-discovery, the ties that bind friends together, emerging stronger after facing harsh realities, the fondness of bygone years, lessons about life and death and facing one’s own mortality – that will undoubtedly ensure the film’s relevance is never lost.

8 comments:

  1. Not only do I remember when the movie came out (I was in junior high myself, more or less the same age as the protagonists), I remember how Ben E. King's song of the same name became a big hit again as a result. I had a general idea of who he was because my father would play songs by the Drifters and many other soul groups around the house all the time, but I don't think any of my friends knew. We just liked the song.

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  2. @Rich - it's amazing what a movie can do for a song and what a song can do for a movie. That song is a classic and one of the all-time greats.

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  3. Wonderful post! I just discovered Stand By Me this month and was absolutely surprised by how great it is, and how much I already love it.
    Now, I'm a bit older than the protagonists, but the thing with growing up, and along the way losing some of your old friends touched me a lot, because it's something I often think of.
    Stand By Me is one of the best "children's movies" I've ever seen - actually I wouldn't even call it a children's' movie.

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  4. @Mette - thanks very much. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. The film is touching in its nostalgia. It's centered around young kids, but I think it's very adult in nature, something I appreciated much more after watching it again recently after not seeing it for many years.

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  5. Great post! This is one of the few films, I'm unashamed to say, makes me cry every time.

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  6. great tribute to Stand By Me. I like this film quite a bit. I always remembered 2 scenes: running from the train and the leeches.

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  7. @Dave Enkosky - thanks, I'm glad you liked the post. It definitely tugs at the heart strings.

    @TheFocusedFilmographer - thanks for the kind words. Running from the train and the leeches are definitely two of the most memorable scenes in the film. I also can't help but think of the pie-eating contest scene with Lardass.

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  8. Anonymous6:47 pm

    can't help but feel strangley nostalgic everytime i watch it.

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