Stand by Me
- Wil Wheaton as Gordie Lachance
- River Phoenix as Chris Chambers
- Corey Feldman as Teddy Duchamp
- Jerry O’Connell as Vern Tessio
- Kiefer Sutherland as Ace
- Richard Dreyfuss as Adult Gordie
- John Cusack as Denny Lachance
Based on a Stephen King novella, Stand by Me is a seminal coming-of-age tale that is filled with humour, pathos and the nostalgic longing for the adventures of childhood.
After reading of the death of a childhood friend, a writer named Gordie Lachance begins to recall an eventful summer adventure with his friends back in 1959 Oregon. We flashback to this time and are introduced to the main characters, four twelve-year old boys. Gordie is a quiet and sensitive young boy who is struggling to cope following the death of his older brother. He has a gift for writing but his strict father who always preferred his older brother berates him for it and neglects him constantly. Gordie finds solace in the company of his friends. The rest of the group comprises of Chris Chambers, a natural leader who is from a family of criminals and often suffers the stigma surrounding this; Teddy Duchamp, a funny but internally troubled boy who is scarred from an incident when his father held his ear to the stove and Vern Tessio, a chubby tag along who is often picked on for his appearance and scared personality. Vern overhears his brother revealing the location of the dead body of a local kid who has been missing for a while. Curious about this, Vern informs his friends and they decide to search for the body, hoping they will get money and fame if they discover it. Hiking through the woods, the four friends go through a journey of self-discovery all while trying to find the body before Ace, the vicious local bully can find it and claim a reward.
Rob Reiner directs with a lyrical eye for detail, capturing the wildlife beauty of the Oregon woods and the boyhood exuberance of going on an adventure with your friends. He also creates fully rounded characters who we can all relate to in one way or another. The four boys could be any group of friends and this quality gives the film a touching sensitivity. The childlike sense of adventure is both funny and poignant as we watch them laugh, go through mishaps such as dodging an oncoming train and falling into a swamp infested with leeches and begin to grapple with mature issues of adulthood. A well-chosen soundtrack of 50’s classics gives the film a brisk edge and the fleeting sense of innocence beginning to be lost as the boys journey deeper into the woods by following train tracks. For me, it is the little things that make Stand by Me such a nostalgic and bittersweet watch. Gordie observing a young deer and deciding to keep the memory to himself, Vern and Teddy singing along to ‘Lollipop’, the campfire debate surrounding what animal Goofy is and the boys running away from Chopper, supposedly the most feared dog around who is far from it. I don’t think I’ve seen a film that evokes the feelings of growing up and the various issues surrounding quite as well as Stand by Me. And it does it all without being sentimental, it instead gives us many life lessons and captures the innocence of childhood in all its awkward and strange glory.
The four leads in Stand by Me all contribute believable and relatable performances. Wil Wheaton combines maturity with vulnerability to get to the heart of Gordie, who feels as if he’s in the shadow of his deceased brother. River Phoenix is particularly touching, soulful and intense as Chris, who fears he won’t succeed in life because of the prejudice aimed towards him as a result of his familial ties. Corey Feldman is funny and manic as the scarred Teddy, whose often smiley demeanor hides the pain of his experiences with his father. Rounding out the quartet is Jerry O’Connell as the lovable and timid Vern, who often says things that cause his friends to roll their eyes but who has an earnest and caring heart when it comes to his friends. In other roles, Kiefer Sutherland is menacing as the town bully who delights in tormenting those who aren’t as strong as he is. Richard Dreyfuss utilises his commanding voice as he narrates the adventures of his youth with maturity and wisdom. John Cusack, in flashback, portrays Gordie’s deceased brother whose death has left a void in his life.
Nostalgic, poignant and filled with charm, the joys of Stand by Me still resonate to this day and will probably live on for a long time because of its moving story and wonderful performances.