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Stand by Me (1986)

June 16, 2010

9/10 For Flinching

One of the all-time great Stephen King adaptations.

Stand by Me is about four best friends from a small town in the ’50s who find out about the location of a local boy’s dead body and set out on foot to find it and get famous by reporting it to the authorities before a group of thug townies get word and take the credit first.

If there’s any one example of why Rob Reiner deserves ever last ounce of credit that he’s garnered over the years as one of Hollywood’s most prominent directors – as if Spinal Tap, When Harry Met SallyMisery and his stint as “Meathead” weren’t enough – Stand by Me is it. There’s a lot of reasons for that statement, all of which I’ll get to in due time, but the big kahuna for me is that it’s a Forever Movie, a resoundingly universal story that rarely ever gets produced and one of the few cinematic experiences that blew me away when I first saw it in Junior High and still floors me double time as a “grow up”. There are movies that make me tear up and pretend I’ve got something in my eye, there are tons of movies that make me laugh my ass off from start to finish, but when it comes to movies that tap into both these emotions while genuinely making me feel like a kid again, the pickin’s are a-slim.

The first thing worth mentioning is that the script by Raynold Gideon and Bruce A. Evans is flat-out phenomenal. The thing is, Stephen King is an absolutely incredible writer and I feel like, more often than not, his voice tends to either get lost or butchered when translated to the screen. Now, I’ve never read the short story this was based on (even though I read the other three stories in the said collection it’s from, which is strange of me), but you don’t have to know the text verbatim to know King when you hear him, and Gideon and Evans  did a kickass job of keeping him loud and clear.

Honestly, everything about this script is unreal.

I LOVE that this movie is rated-R. The truth is, 12-year-old boys don’t talk like they’re in The Mickey Mouse Club, they talk about the breast sizes of the girls in The Mickey Mouse Club, they use “shit” like a comma, they insult each other’s mothers like they just walked into a roast and, good lord, is it funny. If this were PG-13, it simply wouldn’t work. It would be sugarcoated as sin, the characters wouldn’t feel as authentic as they do and I wish there were more writers like Gideon, Evans and King who would realize this and follow suit. The closest thing as of late was Kick-Ass, and as far as I’m concerned, that does not count. No kid talks like that.

But the real heart of Stand by Me are the characters and every last one of them are just as fantastic as the next. I can only imagine how tough it must be to develop four unique, entertaining and equally memorable main characters to drive a plot, but the proof is in the pudding with this one.

For starters, this movie is the best thing that’s ever happened to Wil Wheaton’s, Core Feldman’s and Jerry O’Connell’s carrers, but since River Phoenix had My Own Private Idaho, we’ll just leave him out for now. Wheaton plays our protagonist, Gordie, and he does an incredible job, handles some seriously heavy scenes like a pro, is so damn easy to fall in love with and he’s also got the second best line of the movie:

Ace: What are you gonna do? Shoot us all?
Gordie: No, Ace. Just you.

So badass.

And the same goes for Feldman who’s awesome as the resident maniac with a mental vault jam-packed with one-liners, Teddy. And a completely unrecognizable O’Connell plays the dimwit of the group, Vern, and I don’t think O’Connell’s ever made anyone laugh as much in his entire life as he does here in just two hours. Just wait ’til his comments during the Lardass story – kid had me howling.

The only questionably weak link of the bunch is River Phoenix as Gordie’s best friend, Chris Chambers, the peacekeeper of the group and the one supposedly destined for failure in life. Being the general shoulder to lean on, River occasionally hams it up a bit when it comes to being openly emotional with his friends or consoling them in times of need, and while it does feel a bit forced at times and I can’t say that I’ve ever had conversations with my friends in the way Chris does with his, I really wish I did and that’s what saves it. When I think back to when I was 12, I would have killed for a friend like Chris that I could actually talk to instead of just joke with, I think everyone would have, and even though he might not seem like the most realistic of the foursome, he’s easily the most necessary.

That River had some skills, man. What a shame.

And in my humble opinion, Kiefer Sutherland is one of the biggest and best mother-effers in movie history as our head townie thug, Ace. Kiefer’s just got that naturally evil look about him and he puts it to effortlessly good use with each new straight-up evil remark or action that goes above and beyond what any of his cronies are capable of. God, what an asshole, but damn is he good.

Throw in some Richard Dreyfuss and John Cusack cameos for good measure, and you’re all set.

If you’ve never seen Stand by Me, see it. Doesn’t matter who you are, you will love it, and that’s a recommendation I hardly ever give. It’s funnier and more profound at 23 than it ever was at 12 and it’s right up there with Dead Poets Society and Searching for Bobby Fischer in terms of how easy it is to connect with and how swollen it made my Adam’s apple. It’s not just one of the all-time great King adaptations, it’s not just the best coming-of-ager out there, it’s one of the all-time greats, period. Also has the best final line in movie history:

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

Amen to that.

35 Comments leave one →
  1. June 16, 2010 1:25 am

    Awesome. Now you got me wanting to see this again… I really dig your summer camp movie poll by the way !!!

    • June 16, 2010 8:18 am

      Thanks, man. A movie always worth revisiting. Glad you dig the poll, too, seemed awfully pertinent considering I no longer have the energy to do anything but type at my computer in my hot-ass apartment any more. And thanks for visiting!

      The site I mean, not my hot-ass apartment, I don’t think we’re on that level just yet.

  2. June 16, 2010 3:46 am

    Fantastic review Aiden. This inspires me to dust off my review of Stand By Me and publish it on Top10Films. Such a great film and one of the finest Stephen King adaptations – certainly of the faithful-to-the-text variety. Rob Reiner did a great job with the young actors – their friendship is so authentic and they all excel. Of course, that one scene when River Phoenix breaks down is one of the most touching moments in a film that I can remember. Just wonderful!

    • June 16, 2010 8:22 am

      Go for it, man. Would love to hear what you think. Reiner really did do such a great job with those kids, it’s not often you see performances like that from young actors. Man, being a kid was awesome.

  3. Darren permalink
    June 16, 2010 8:09 am

    I love this movie, and I think it’s my better half’s favourite movie of all time. I must concede, though, that I am a little fond of the Family Guy adaptation of the story, complete with voice-over (and visit from Roy Schneider).

    • June 16, 2010 8:20 am

      Never saw the Family Guy take, but despite how awesome a Roy Schneider cameo is, think I’ll still be on the same page as your better half on this one. Will check it out though, been a while since I watched Family Guy.

  4. mcarteratthemovies permalink
    June 16, 2010 10:30 am

    Good Stephen King adaptations are very rare indeed, and “Stand by Me” is one of the precious few aside from “Shawshank Redemption,” “The Shining” and “Green Mile.” What I love about this one is that it’s based on one his best novellas and it’s not at all what you’d expect from a Stephen King piece of writing. The quote you pulled out beautifully illustrates the deeper meaning. “Stand by Me” is about friendship and coming-of-age and the discovery that the world is not as nice and pretty a place as you thought.

    Great review, man.

    • June 16, 2010 10:33 am

      Well said. I’m waiting to read The Shining before reviewing the movie because I hear they’re very very different. It’s really too bad that King’s always known as “the horror guy” because it really doesn’t do any kind of justice to how talented he is as a writer. F that noise. Green Mile was the bomb though, need to watch that one again. Good Sam Rockwell performance there too.

  5. June 16, 2010 1:04 pm

    great poster. you always dig out good poster Aidano

  6. June 16, 2010 2:00 pm

    FRC’s first R rated movie int he theaters —– I was like 5 or 6 and my aunt took me.

  7. Ryan permalink
    June 16, 2010 2:08 pm

    Don’t think I’ve ever seen this from start to finish, throwing it on the netflix queue asap

    • June 16, 2010 2:09 pm

      I bought it yesterday for 5 bucks at Target actually, I’ll send it your way.

  8. June 16, 2010 5:24 pm

    The line “they use “shit” like a comma” is just about the funniest thing i’ve read today.

    Good on you, Aiden!

  9. June 16, 2010 5:48 pm

    The strange thing about this film I find is that, while I completely agree with your 9/10, when I try to recommend it to people, I find it very hard to describe.
    ‘What’s about?’ they ask
    ‘Uh, four guys, just walkin along,’ I say, not very helpfully.
    I hope I havent turned poeple off what is a superb if hard to summarise film.

    BTW Aiden, I’m surprised your normally impeccable research was left somewhat wanting in this review.
    ‘The best thing to ever happen Wil Wheaton’s career’?
    Em, ever heard of a little thing called The Next Generation?
    Obviously not…

    • June 16, 2010 5:58 pm

      Haha, oh I’m well aware of his stint in Star Trek. That was no typo.

      Yeah, I suck at describing movies to begin with, but this was tough. Not often I can I break the synopsis down to a sentence, but there’s only so much you can say about it. Awesome movie though, glad you agree, man.

  10. June 16, 2010 6:26 pm

    Great movie! I actually saw this only very recently after the recommendation of a friend and I enjoyed it greatly. It’s definitely up there with the likes of The Sandlot for example as teen/pre-teen boys movies go.

    • June 17, 2010 9:21 am

      Right on, man, glad you liked it. Need to watch Sandlot again, been far too long.

  11. June 16, 2010 6:51 pm

    Gosh I miss River! All the more reason Joaquin needs to return to acting!!

    Btw, I think your blog is just awesome, Aiden. That’s why I tagged you for the Versatile Blogger Award:

    • June 17, 2010 9:25 am

      Wow! Thanks a bunch, really appreciate it. Now I just gotta come up with seven more facts, after all these memes I think I’m just gonna have to start making stuff up. Time to break out the Sasquatch stories.

  12. June 16, 2010 9:41 pm

    Good movie, good review. Like you said, one of the best Stephen King adaptations. As a huge King fan, I wish they were all this successful.

    • June 17, 2010 9:22 am

      Same here, man. The world would be a much better place if that were the case.

  13. June 16, 2010 10:27 pm

    Greatest coming-of-age stories of all-time. Its got everything you could really want to ever learn about growing up, especially the great acting. How funny is it that the most successfull is the fat kid. Hey, at least Jerry O’Connell was in Kangaroo Jack. Great Review!

    • June 17, 2010 9:24 am

      Poor Jerry O’Connell, with the exception of marrying Rebecca Romijn, losing all that weight and (maybe) Joe’s Apartment, dude had a pretty shitty movie career after this. Same for Feldman. Whoof.

  14. June 17, 2010 9:37 pm

    I don’t know what my problem is, but I’ve never cared for this film. I’ve watched it numerous times – yet I find myself not appreciating it as much as I should. Good write up dude.

    • June 17, 2010 9:52 pm

      Thanks, dude. Who knows, maybe fifth times a charm. That’s my brilliant suggestion.

  15. June 18, 2010 2:39 am

    I love how your review is teeming with well-deserved hyperboles. I share your feelings toward the movie. I heard a lot about it over the years but didn’t actually see it until about a year ago. When I did, I instantly fell in love with it because it felt fresh, relevant, and accurate in terms of its portrayal of adolescent psychology.

    The one part I disagree with:

    “The only questionably weak link of the bunch is River Phoenix as Gordie’s best friend, Chris Chambers, the peacekeeper of the group and the one supposedly destined for failure in life.”

    River did a great job portraying the complexities of his character. I thought he was the strongest actor in the group because he (at least to me) understood the group’s dynamics. He played a character with the most layers and I loved that he easily shifted from being tough to being sensitive in a matter of seconds. I could identify with him the most, I guess.

    • June 18, 2010 8:02 am

      Haha, yeah, went a little hyperbole crazy there, but what can i say, this movie’s the bomb.

      And as for River, I totally agree with you, easily the most complex of the bunch and I loved that about him, just certain aspects of his performance that felt a little too mushy at times. Good point about him understanding the group’s dynamics. Never though of it in that light but your dead on. Chris Chambers is the man though, won’t argue that one.

  16. June 18, 2010 3:11 pm

    I love your blog so much that I’ve tagged you for the Versatile Blogger Award. Check out the details below

    • June 18, 2010 3:23 pm

      hey, thanks! much appreciated and I dug your facts. don’t have any HMV’s in the US, but I have the same problem walking by any darn store that’s liquidating their DVD libraries, need to buy more bookshelves as a result. thanks again and keep it real.

  17. June 20, 2010 2:27 am

    “If there’s any one example of why Rob Reiner deserves ever last ounce of credit that he’s garnered over the years as one of Hollywood’s most prominent directors – as if Spinal Tap, When Harry Met Sally, Misery and his stint as “Meathead” weren’t enough – Stand by Me is it.”

    Um…Princess Bride, anyone? Great review of a great movie (that I also recently re-watched and introduced to my wife), but that was a glaring omission, my friend. He could retire after Princess and this one and call it a career. He might not be relevant anymore, but I’d say he earned it in the mid-80s.

  18. Branden permalink
    June 20, 2010 12:43 pm

    This is my favorite movie growing up. Even though, I saw it on TBS. When I saw it uncut, I loved it even more.

  19. June 23, 2010 9:58 am

    I’m going to watch this tonight when I get home. Love this flick.


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